Dark-eyed and vivacious, 23-year-old Samar is the picture of a successful entrepreneur, but behind that picture are all the unhappiness and uncertainty of the conflict that has been devastating Syria for nearly three years. After being forced to flee their home in Yarmouk, Samar and her family came to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Safad collective shelter in Damascus. Although it offered safety, the trauma of conflict and the lack of income or skills is enough to make many give up hope.
Samar was determined to create a living for herself and her family. As she faced mounting expenses and it became harder and harder to make ends meet, she took a great risk and joined an entrepreneur-training programme, taking the chance to fulfil a cherished dream to improve her own life and that of her family and community.
The course, part of the UNRWA Engaging Youth project, funded by the European Union, sought to help young, displaced Palestine refugees create new opportunities. They received two weeks of training and close supervision from business-development facilitators. Samar explained that the project “helped participants improve their knowledge and vision about small businesses,” especially important given the terribly challenging environment.
Samar’s plan was to make and sell falafel, the popular vegetarian street food made of mashed beans, herbs and spices. The Engaging Youth project approved her idea and provided the basic necessary materials, and she pooled her own resources to borrow SYP 25,000 (US$ 175) to purchase additional equipment and groceries. Combining her resourcefulness with support from UNRWA, she was ready to expand her business in only a few weeks. With the help of a cousin, she’s now running her open-air falafel stall in the vicinity of the Safad shelter, drawing customers who praise the quality of her food or come on the recommendation of others.
“Thanks to the project, my business is rewarding and is helping me to support my family amid the hard conditions,” said Samar. “My success has strengthened my independence and helped me gain people’s respect and self-confidence. My community considers me a role model. It is a sweet feeling,” she continued. Helping young refugees like Samar reach that feeling and build their skills for the future is an important part of what UNRWA does in response to the conflict.