Women refugees

Success is sweet for “Determined Women” from Jordan and Syria

A group of Syrian and Jordanian women who received ILO support to set up a joint business venture producing and selling sweets and other foods, have found success.

Feature | 11 July 2019

Irbid, Jordan (ILO News) Nawal Fahed and Naima Al Bdour are busy preparing food orders for customers in their modest kitchen, situated in the Jordanian city of Irbid. They are making everything from cakes and biscuits to salads, stuffed vine leaves and Middle Eastern rice dishes.

They handle a wide range of orders, from supplying individual customers with home-cooked meals and treats for special occasions, to supplying a major local sweets manufacturer with packaged biscuits.

“The nice thing is that we make Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian foods. We make whatever is in demand by our customers,” said Jordanian Al Bdour, one of the founding members of the business. “We have customers in Amman, Ramtha and here in Irbid.”

They called their catering and sweets business “Azeemet Sabaya,”or ‘’Determined Women” in Arabic. It was set up a year ago by six women - three Jordanians and three Syrians – who were looking for opportunities to generate income to support their families.

They were initially brought together by the ILO in 2017 to take part in an on-the-job training programme in sweet making. The ILO partnered with Abeedo, a local sweets manufacturer in Irbid, to train 33 Jordanian and Syrian women in baking, decorating and packaging sweets. The ILO training programme also taught them how to market their products and start their own businesses.

“When I came to Jordan as a refugee I realised that I had to work in order to support my family,” explained Fahed, who fled Syria eight years ago with her husband and children. “I took part in the training and I realised straight away that I would excel in the sweets making business.”

They now provide employment to family members and other women in their local area. Fahed’s husband provides support in the kitchen and Al Bdour’s husband does the delivery work.

“At first, it was difficult to convince our husbands and sons to accept that we would be working outside the house,” recalls Fahed. “We started bringing them to work with us to show them how difficult the work is and they ended up working with us.”

“We were women looking for employment but after we launched our business, we were able to provide employment opportunities for others,” Al Bdour explained. “We train other women and help them in starting their own home-based businesses.”

In June, they were invited to sell their food at an annual #WithRefugees Summer Bazaar, organised by UNHCR and supported by ILO, to mark World Refugee Day. The bazaar brought together refugees of different nationalities to showcase and sell their products, with all proceedings going directly to the sellers.

“We are very happy to be able to this year again contribute to the bazaar that is being organised by UNHCR on this World Refugee Day,” said Patrick Daru, ILO's Country Coordinator for Jordan on the opening day of the bazaar. "Azeemet Sabaya is a very special story for the ILO. It is a success story where we provided a bit of support in terms of equipment and training and we saw their business really blooming into full scale. Azeemet Sabaya is the perfect example because not only do we see a livelihood thriving but we also see the added value of having refugees in local communities.” ​

The women say that such events are essential for refugees to help them generate income and meet new customers. “We are honoured to take part in this bazaar,” said Fahed. “Being able to participate in a such an important event is testimony to our success and we hope to continue to participate in such events – not just in Jordan but also abroad.”