Small loans, great achievements: For Ghada, the road to financial independence is paved with boxes and bags

08 June 2023
Ghada (right) personally folds cardboard boxes in her workshop to fulfill an order. © 2023 UNRWA Photos

Ghada Qasem (47) is as busy as a bee working with her team to meet an order received for assembling cardboard boxes for sweets and making paper gift bags at her “Innovation Workshop” in Qazzaz, Damascus. She is one of over 155,000 clients who have benefitted from UNRWA microfinance loans to boost their businesses and break the cycle of dependency that has negatively affected Palestine refugees and Syrians who find themselves mired in protracted conflict, increased poverty, and worsening socio-economic conditions, all of which have been compounded by the recent devastating earthquakes.

Ghada lives in Jaramana camp in Damascus with her parents, brothers and sisters. As the eldest of 10 children, Ghada dropped out of high school to support her father to try to make ends meet.  “In many ways, it was an unremarkable thing to do, but I had no choice. My family used to get by on the single income from my father,” Ghada said.

After leaving school, she worked in different printing companies for around 20 years. She got married but her marriage did not work out well. “Life after divorce is not an end; it is a new beginning,” she said philosophically.

Working with a large group of people helped Ghada to create a family culture within the workplace and equipped her with entrepreneurial skills.  “Building a family atmosphere has benefits that will improve the work on all levels,” Ghada noted.

Her in-depth knowledge of the trade and her previous experience in this line of work where she had learned the nitty-gritty of the business, allowed her to open up her own workshop in partnership with one of her former colleagues in 2017. The workshop provides stable employment not just for her but also for her sister, her brother and a neighbour.


A colourful array of the bags and boxes Ghada produces in her workshop © 2023 UNRWA Photo.
A colourful array of the bags and boxes Ghada produces in her workshop © 2023 UNRWA Photo.

Ghada expanded her business after she received her first loan of SYP400,000 from UNRWA Department of Microfinance in 2019. This helped her buy the necessary raw materials for making paper gift bags. As her business continued to flourish, she again approached UNRWA for additional financing to meet her growing business requirements. In 2021 and 2022, Ghada took out two additional loans, the largest of which was for SYP1600,000, which enabled her to purchase stocks of ribbon, fabric and paper.

“With the help of UNRWA and my hard work, I have succeeded in my business,” she said. “This proves that women can make a difference in improving the lives of their families and community.  Now I can provide my family with whatever they need."  

In the future, Ghada hopes to buy a cellophane wrapping machine.

Over time Ghada built up a solid reputation for herself in the paper bag gifts industry in Damascus.  Her farsightedness, resolve, business acumen and hard work has helped her build her stairway to success. 

In 2022, the UNRWA microfinance programme distributed more than 29,000 loans throughout the region valued at US$ 25.4 million. Of these loans were awarded in Syria, to entrepreneurs like Ghada.

Through its branch offices in Damascus, Lattakia, Suweidaa and Tartous, together with two units in Husseiniyeh and Sahnaya in Rif Damascus, the UNRWA microfinance programme improves the quality of life of small business owners and micro-entrepreneurs while sustaining jobs and reducing unemployment and poverty.