Syrian refugees earn money recycling waste in Jordan

Syrian refugee Sameera Al Salam shows a colleague how to strengthen a paper handbag with glue, at an up-cycling workshop in Irbid city, northern Jordan, May 9, 2018. (Photo: Freya Dowson/Action Against Hunger)

Global organization Action Against Hunger provides temporary work permits to Syrian refugees in Jordan, allowing them to create products using recycled material such as newspaper and cardboard, to alleviate poverty and better their circumstances.

The charity has employed 1,200 people, nearly half are women who mostly live below the poverty line, to collect and categories rubbish from the street, which is used to create various items including handbags and side-tables.

The waste project workers were given 50-day contracts, in which they were provided training and social security provision as well as paid 12 Jordanian dinar per day ($16.90).

Syrian refugee Sameera al-Salam, 55, hopes that her involvement in the charity project will improve her conditions as well as alleviate poverty within both the refugee and Jordanian communities.

Al-Salam told Thompson Reuters she fled Syria with her family in 2012 due to airstrikes. “We were always trying to put things in front of the door to protect the children. Whenever I remember, it breaks my heart,” she said.

She hopes that she will be able to receive training in marketing and trademarking as well as have new contracts with the organization.

Similar to many Syrian refugee households, al-Salam’s household is headed by the mother of two who has been supporting her family after her husband became paralyzed by a stroke, but she does not have the legal right to work.

The organization has managed the waste project since 2017 with German government funding, and is now preparing its second phase, which will allow cooperatives and workers to continue the project unaided.

Overcoming cultural obstacles

It was difficult for women to work at first, given the discomfort surrounding the concept of working with rubbish. Program manager Sajeda Saqallah said “First there was a focus on breaking the culture of shame for women. Then we wanted ideas of how they could benefit from waste.”

Syrian widow Awsaf Qaddah, 39, said she takes pride in working as a rubbish collector although she initially felt that it was “a kind of shame.”

Qaddah said women ought to go out and work given their current circumstances. “I have no husband or father or brother to help – I’m proud to do it,” she said.

She said she was faced with comments about her job. “I said to one man, ‘I’d rather work than come to you for the money’ and he apologized,” she said.


Close-knit community

The project has also created a tight-knit community between the women.

Al-Salam said the women share ideas and news in a WhatsApp group as well as meet regularly. “I was from a different country. I didn’t know what people were going to do to me or what they would say. Now I like to mingle,” said.

Syrian refugee and mother of five Sahira Zoubi said the friends she made are “like siblings.” “Doing this project is so joyful because you come here and forget about your problems,” she said.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52
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