Forced by war to abandon their businesses and former lives, Syrian women are creating new opportunities for themselves and their families in the countries where they’ve found refuge.
Meet five resilient and ambitious entrepreneurs in Jordan in our new multimedia series, Starting up again: Syrian entrepreneurs in exile.
From: Dara’a, Syria
Currently lives in: Irbid, Jordan
Startup: At-home beauty salon
Goals: Restarting her professional life in Jordan to help provide for her paralysed mother, as well as her nieces and nephews.
Rama shares her story:
My life in Syria was paradise. My business was doing very well. I had six ladies working for me. Some even opened their own salons later on.
I bought a house of my own with the profits from my business. I was an independent woman and supported myself. I helped raise my siblings at the same time.
Hairdressing started out as a hobby when I was a child—I used to experiment on my sister and friends. I wanted to develop this hobby, but my family refused in the beginning; they thought hairdressing was a shameful profession. When I opened my own salon, my family saw how many customers I had and changed their minds and welcomed the idea.
When I fled to Jordan in 2013, I felt like my career had been stolen away from me. I couldn’t practice it anymore because of our new lives as refugees. There were many pressures; we’re 16 people living in this house right now. It’s also hard to work in Jordan.
A year ago, my mother had a stroke. She can’t move her arms or legs. I have to stay at home to take care of her. I also take care of my six nieces and nephews since their parents live in Zaatari [refugee camp]. It’s a big responsibility.
I was bored sitting at home all day. My psychological state was very bad. Life for me was just eating and sleeping. Life had no meaning whatsoever.
Some ladies from the IRC came to my home to tell me about the services they offer at the women’s centre. Since I don’t like sitting at home, I took a beauty course, along with crochet, sewing and Zumba. I like to learn everything and stay active.
They noticed my skills and encouraged me to sign up for the small-business training course, which taught me about business planning, budgeting and costs. The classes were also enjoyable because of all the women I met.
The IRC supported me with 400 JOD ($564), which I used to buy used wedding dresses to rent them out, a hairdryer, make-up, and other beauty products—I had so much equipment in Syria, but I cannot afford to buy it here. The money helped me so much. Without it, I would have never been able to start up a business; I would still be sitting at home doing nothing.
Starting from scratch
I’m working at home with 16 people living in the house, including children, so they’re loud when customers come. I like to work in peace and quiet. A bride would want to go to a proper salon with proper décor, a place that’s comfortable with air conditioning. The electricity bill is shared between our neighbours and us. When they see that a bride just left my house, they tell me we should pay more of our share for the electricity bill.
My customers here are the ones I had in Dara’a. Others hear about my work by word of mouth. I also have some Jordanian customers. My prices are low compared to other salons so this attracts customers. I have more cash coming in now, but I have many obligations. I only take a small profit.
We used to live on food vouchers before, but my mother and I stopped receiving them and the rest of the family had their voucher value reduced to 10 JOD ($14) per month. Nobody in the house works because they’re scared.
There is a huge difference between our lives before the war and our lives now. It’s better now that the community knows us; we feel more comfortable now.
We hear about people who were caught working without permits and sent back to Syria. We know a lot of people who where caught working without permits and sent back to Syria. My nephew was one of them. He’s an only child and was working here in Jordan. When he was caught, his mother went to the police station and begged them not to send him back. They let him stay and he didn’t try to work again.
We’ve been here for four years now, and I feel like I’m still trying to adjust to our new lifestyle. There is a huge difference between our lives before the war and our lives now. It’s better now that the community knows us; we feel more comfortable now.
But I do wish to return to Syria and reopen my salon there. If we can’t go back, then I hope to be able to open a salon here in Jordan.