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Hopes and aspirations of a hardworking Syrian refugee in Jordan

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Situated on the very busy Al-Abass Bin Abd Almotaleb Road in Madaba is a thriving charcoal sales business run by Khaled Abbas, a Syrian refugee in Jordan. His store, located in this highly commercial area, and the fact that he can afford to rent such a facility there, attests to the growing success of his enterprise.

Abbas had not always dreamt about working in the charcoal industry, in fact; he had been a final-year student of Business Administration before fleeing to Jordan from Syria in 2013. In addition to that, he owned his own shop in Syria, where he had sold stationery and school supplies.

When the war erupted in 2011 however, Abbas and his family tried to stay in Homs, their hometown, but they had seen too much suffering and had decided to seek refuge in Jordan in 2013.

Missing the streets of Homs, his university buildings and the colors of his own shop, Abbas had to shift his life completely; while the streets of Homs became the streets of Madaba, the university buildings became a factory walls and the shop colors all turned into black.

“Memories hurt, I do not want to remember my life in Homs,” recalled Abbas, with tears welling up in his eyes.

Still reminiscing about the experiences he had in Syria, Abbas said that his practical experience and his major of study supported him later in Jordan when he started working in a charcoal factory as a packaging officer. After that, he became a storekeeper and later a team leader who managed a group of employees and some financial aspects of the factory. Abbas gained experience in this factory and friends that helped him in the upcoming stages of his life to become financially independent.

The charcoal business had originally been that of his mother who herself used to be one of the refugees supported by the ICRC with grants to run small businesses. However, she gave up the enterprise when she turned 80 years old and Abbas took it over and has continued to run and expand it.

It was at this juncture that the ICRC came into Abbas’s life for the second time and helped him to expand the business he already had with a financial grant. “This generous grant meant something big to me and my family,” Abbas shared, adding that the cash grant helped him to expand his business in order to meet the daily needs of his 6-member family.

Talking about the raging pandemic and the effect it had on his life, Abbas said that “COVID-19 has hit me from three different sides.” He added that the first aspect was the commercial aspect as he used to buy his charcoal from importers who bring it in from Egypt, Nigeria and Tunisia. But with commercial restrictions that were imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the work of the importers was affected, which negatively impacted Khaled’s business as well.

Abbas also expressed the difficult situation he faced during the lockdown due to COVID-19 preventive measures, saying that “most of my customers are restaurants, cafes and families who go for trips. During the pandemic, these places were closed, which affected my work tremendously.” On a personal level, he and his family also suffered from COVID-19 and experience different symptoms and he found himself isolated at home, not able to provide for his family.

Reflecting now on his upcoming plans and aspirations, Abbas smiled and said that he wishes to complete his study, adding that when he arrived in Jordan, he tried to do this, but things didn’t work out because he could not attend classes everyday due to his work and responsibilities.

Leaving Homs at the age of 27, with a mother and a sister to support, Abbas is now a 35-year-old man with 3 children. The youngest is just 6-months old and the eldest is already heading to first grade. Not knowing what the future holds, Abbas can however be hopeful especially since he now has a loving family that in some ways help mitigate the difficult experiences he’s had along the way.