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In 2012, my family and I fled the war in Syria to neighboring Jordan. We did not think we would be there long. However, after over a year in Amman, I was compelled to think creatively to make a living and become financially independent.

At the time, I could not work in the Jordanian labor market. I founded the Jasmine Foundation for the Economic Empowerment of Women in 2014 to stand on my own feet and to give Syrian refugees families, especially women the same chance. More than 80 percent of Syrians in Jordan live outside of camps in very precarious conditions. Many Syrian women with children have lost their husbands, sons and brothers and thus their familial support. But they also have the skills and determination to help their families survive, especially in these harsh times. That is what drives my work with the Jasmine Foundation.

Based on the premise, “don’t give me a fish but teach me how to catch,” our foundation believes that the key to economic empowerment of women in developing countries is to combat poverty by establishing agency. This requires building women’s capabilities and skills in planning, administration, communication, creative thinking, and leadership. Accordingly, the primary goal of our training programs at Jasmine is to refine these skills and provide secure work opportunities both inside and outside the home in order to achieve self-sufficiency. As assistance from the international community decreased, I realized how important the gift of financial independence is for these women.

It is at the heart of our mission to help the most vulnerable refugee families and women depend on themselves. Due to the war, around 30 percent of households amongst Syrian refugee families in Jordan are women, making a focus on their employment and agency essential for preserving the dignity of present and future generations.

My team and I started our work with five Syrian women who left the Za’atari camp in 2014 first by training them in sewing and handicrafts. By further expanding their skillset to marketing their products and selling them to local consumers we laid the foundation of Jasmine’s mission to achieve self-sufficiency for Syrian families. By the end of 2017, Jasmine employed 40 women and has helped many more achieve permanent employment.  

Through courses in handicrafts and domestic work Jasmine has also offered training to more than a thousand women of all ages and statuses from elderly to young girls and the disabled and wounded. We work in a variety of trades including tailoring, embroidery, stained glass, wool knitting and crochet, natural soap, accessories, and many more.

At the beginning of 2018, Jasmine Foundation’s work was recognized yet again by taking part with 20 foundations in Tourist Map Jordan to demonstrate Syrian handicrafts for sale to tourists. Further, some of the women we trained were able to migrate to Canada and the United States and have since used these new skills in their new hometowns. These milestones represent memorable moments of pride for all the Syrian women we empowered.

These Syrian craftswomen started by selling their high-quality crafts to locals and advertising on Facebook. Today, we are a registered trademark and we sell to markets around the world. Anywhere someone enjoys a Jasmine product, they not only show admiration for the careful skill required to produce an artisan craft, but support the security of Syrian families and empowerment and agency of their women. Today, we continue to uphold our motto; “we are producers, not refugees.”

About the Author

Lara Shahin

Lara Shahin

Director General manager of the Jasmine Foundation in Jordan
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