Rabiha Khalloof is a 47-year-old Syrian refugee who fled Syria almost three years ago. She is among 520 Syrian women refugees in Lebanon who have received training and economic assistance from the third phase of a UN Women project, funded by the Government of Japan and the Ford Foundation. Today Khalloof is earning an income for the first time and aspiring to teach other women to start their own businesses.
Back in Syria, we had a house with a private garden. We invested a lot of effort and money in building it. Now it’s gone, the war swept everything away.
When we arrived in Lebanon more than three years ago, we moved from one place to another, trying to find job opportunities. The war affected us financially, mentally and physically, and my husband still suffers from the trauma.
In my hometown, Tell al-Nabi Mando, in Homs, Syria, it is not socially acceptable for women to work; they are expected to stay at home to take care of the household. But once in Lebanon, I had to find work to meet the basic needs of my family.
When I heard about the UN Women project offering technical and business training and small grants to beneficiaries, I joined in. There were cooking sessions and courses provided by Fair Trade Lebanon that trained us in food safety and hygiene, pricing, social media and how to comply with industry standards.
UN Women also helped a group of beneficiaries in creating a small women’s cooperative called “Mounet Dayeitna” (our village's preserves) producing agri-food. I was so happy to become involved [in the cooperative], since making preserves is also part of our Syrian tradition. As a child, in my mother’s kitchen, I used to help her in preserving food for the winter. At the cooperative, we produce pomegranate molasses, strawberry jam and fig jam with sesame. We have marketed these in the Akkar region, especially in Halba [the capital of the Akkar district] and this has allowed us to earn more.
Our cooperative takes part in community events nearby. Recently at the “Rural Women in Akkar” public market event in Halba, we prepared and sold preserves and had a fresh juice and Manakish (dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat) station. All the women supported each other and worked together. It was a great experience.
All the training sessions [I received] have helped me understand that women can be independent and can make their own decisions. Within our community, men are now perceiving women differently. Even my children seem more comfortable with the idea of having a working mom.
Our society needs women to help future generations succeed. I will share the knowledge I have gained in Lebanon with other Syrian women when I go back to my hometown in Syria. I hope to improve living conditions there too, by helping women start small businesses.”