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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
29 November 2008



Refugee Stories

The future’s all sewn up - Bank Audi donation brings skills and income to Husseiniyeh’s women

Syria, November 2008

It is a cold autumn morning in Damascus; nevertheless the chilly wind blowing down from the AntiLebanon Mountains is hardly felt inside the small room that houses Husseiniyeh’s brand-new textile production unit.

Inside the unit, bright smiles and proud faces add to the warm and happy atmosphere as nine women go about their work amongst the unstoppable sewing machines.

Business seems to be as usual at this community-based project. But for these women it is not just another day. They are putting the final touches to a week-long assignment. Over 9,000 towels, complete with flawless sewing, are ready to be delivered to Murad, a local textile firm with which they have a contract.

"It has been hard but we are satisfied. Today we proved to ourselves that if we really want something we can achieve it," says Rabieh Abu Sameer, still elated from the success of the recent completion.

Rabieh, one of the thousands of Palestinian refugee women in Husseiniyeh considered Special Hardship Cases, is the manager of the textile unit.

Life has not been easy for Rabieh. At 35, she went through a divorce and found herself jobless. The little money she had, she decided to invest in a sewing course at a private institution. After the course she was able to find casual work as a seamstress. This proved to be a vital source of income.

The arrival of the textile unit in Husseiniyeh earlier this year, as part of UNRWA’s Relief and Social Services program, has proved a turning point for Rabieh and the other women involved with the project.

The unit has allowed Rabieh to make the most of her skills by sharing them with other women. For the refugee women that she teaches, the unit has provided new skills which enable them to generate additional income for their families.

Recruitment for work and training at the unit is aimed at those deemed most in need of such a service. These include widows, female heads of households, divorced women and women with disabilities.

Since opening in February of this year, Husseiniyeh’s textile production unit has trained 28 women. Six of these women have subsequently found full time jobs elsewhere thanks to the skills they gained at the unit.

The idea of opening a textile production unit came from within Husseiniyeh’s own community. The women’s committee proposed the scheme as a solution for the problems of rampant unemployment and harsh living conditions faced by Husseiniyeh’s residents; most particularly its women.

Husseiniyeh is a very poor area where many people are not able to find resources to meet their basic needs. Husseiniyeh’s women face greater barriers in attaining economic security and access to the labour market than their male counterparts. Around 14% of Husseiniyeh residents are registered with UNRWA as Special Hardship Cases, more than half of these are women.

As Rabieh gives some final instructions for packaging the towels to her students and workers, Watha Khalid, one of them, begins a final check on the soon-to-be-delivered shipment in a corner of the room.

"Here, for the first time in my life, I feel I can accomplish something;" says Watha, her hands diligently arranging the packages. "I feel useful and energetic."

Watha is 48 and has a rare case of anemia. Once a month she has to visit the hospital to get a blood transfusion. As the other women in the unit help Watha to put the finishing touches on their big order, they all agree Husseiniyeh’s textile production unit has changed their lives.

With a recent $20,000 donation from Bank Audi, this UNRWA project will be able to extend its work. The money will be used for equipping and renting bigger premises. This will mean that even more women can attend the centre and have the chance to improve their lives, just as Rabieh and Watha have done.

Through this collaboration UNRWA confirmed its commitment to create partnerships with the private sector that will enhance the services the Agency provides to Palestine refugees.

"This contribution sends a powerful signal of support from the private sector to the Palestinian refugees we serve" said Panos Moumtzis, Director of UNRWA’s Syrian Field Office, when the donation was announced in early October.

These sentiments were echoed by Bassel Hamwi, Bank Audi’s Deputy Chairman & General Manager.

"By extending this grant, Bank Audi is playing a role in assisting Palestinian refugees in Syria and helping improve the quality of their life. This is part of the Bank’s continued commitment towards social responsibility in Syria." Hamwi said.

Text and photos by Diego Gomez-Pickering


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