Persistence and pursuit of a passion: A Syrian refugee’s business journey in Jordan

By Mahmoud Shabeeb, CARE’s Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Response

When her husband was arrested in their hometown of Homs in 2012, Ola, a mother of two decided to remain with her in-laws in Syria, separating from her parents and siblings who fled to Jordan. Ola wanted to stay and wait for her husband to be release.

“But the bombing escalated and I started feeling more depressed and less hopeful, so I decided to follow my family to Amman,” says 27 year-old Ola. “I came here in December 2013, only to learn a few months later that my husband had died under torture during detention.”

Ola lives with her family in a three-bedroom apartment in Amman. They are 11 people in total, and her brother, who works at a garment factory, is the sole breadwinner of the family. They also receive a monthly payment from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“Before the war we had everything we wanted. We never knew what it meant to be deprived until we endured it during the conflict,” says Ola. “I was struggling here in Jordan. I would not leave the house. Then my neighbour, who is a trainer in CARE’s vocational training program, told me about an upcoming cosmetology training session, where a number of the trainees would receive grants to start their own beauty business. A total of 100 women applied. I achieved the highest marks of my peers on the theoretical and practical test.”

Although she received the grant from CARE, Ola faced obstacles that prevented her from starting her own business.

“I was very proud to receive a full salon kit from CARE, including a range of hair dyes, a mirror, brushes, a chair, and other items,” says Ola. “I tried working from home for a few days but it was complicated. Our apartment is crowded with people, there’s little privacy, and no dedicated space for customers. There are also many women around me who work as hairdressers from home, so there is a lot of competition.”

“In the program, we were a mix of Syrian and Jordanian women. There was never any instances of discrimination – we were learning together in harmony. But outside in real life, the situation is different. Most Jordanians would prefer a Jordanian woman to do their hair and makeup, which means that they already have a solid customer base, something I don’t have. Not just that, but as a Syrian, I’m expected to charge less than Jordanians for my services, even if I can do a better job.”

Ola was also able to take an advanced course from CARE on small business development, which gave her more ideas for starting her own business.

“The advanced course with CARE was excellent. The trainer was very engaging and taught us a wide range of business best practices using simple examples from our life.”

With this knowledge, Ola felt she could persist in a new endeavor to generate an income.

“Working as a hairdresser in my current circumstances was difficult, so I decided to follow my other passion, which is cooking. I’m a very good cook and I make delicious desserts. My mother never has to step foot in the kitchen because my sister-in-law and I do all of the cooking and baking. The workstation is already there – every house has a kitchen – and this is where I’m planning to start. CARE is providing more grants, so I submitted my full proposal including the budget, work plan, timeline, and how I plan to sell my products. I am waiting to hear back soon whether or not I will get a grant, and I will take it from there.”

Learn more about CARE's work to support refugees >>

Learn more about the crisis in Syria >>