NEF Remembers Chuck Robarts

On March 25, 2018, NEF said goodbye to Richard Robarts, a revered leader of the Near East Foundation for 22 years whose philosophies and impacts are still very much present at NEF today.

At his memorial service on April 28 in Old Greenwich, CT, current NEF President, Charles Benjamin, was honored to deliver the eulogy to Chuck’s family and friends gathered to celebrate his meaningful life and legacy. In doing so, he explained the influence that Chuck had as a mentor to him and so many others, saying, “Chuck had an incredible way of working with people. He made us feel that anything was possible and no idea was too small. While teaching and mentoring us, he encouraged us to grow into our own – making us believe that we could accomplish anything. Dreaming big was something Chuck excelled in, especially when the end goal was development that had the potential to change people’s lives.”

Of his devoted wife of 54 years, Dee Robarts, and his sons Alex and Andrew, he added, “While brilliant at what he did, he led with his heart and this I think stemmed from the beautiful family he was surrounded by each day, and who he so looked forward to returning home to after each trip to the field.”

He concluded, “I now have the humbling responsibility of serving in the same role that Chuck served for 22 years, and I can only hope that all of us at NEF will go on to make him and his family proud, and ensure that the legacy that he built and the lessons he passed down live on.”

The Near East Foundation is forever grateful for Chuck’s contributions and the countless lives that he touched. With great sadness and much respect, we say goodbye to a true man of service who gave so much of his life to this organization.

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Current NEF President, Charles Benjamin (left), and NEF President at the time, Chuck Robarts (right), standing in an irrigation ditch in Southern Morocco in 1993.

Newhouse Professor Visits NEF Lebanon

In March, NEF held a three-day communications workshop at its Beirut, Lebanon office. Conducted by Syracuse University Professor of Photography & Design, and Director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement, Ken Harper, the workshop covered training on photography basics and story gathering for staff currently focused on developing refugee livelihoods. This presented a unique opportunity for NEF project staff to learn from a leading professor representing one of the top ten communications schools in the U.S.

“The challenge is equipping project implementation teams who are already at maximum capacity with project activities, with enough information to gather quality photos and meaningful stories, without totally overwhelming them,” said NEF’s Director of Communications, Kristin Sheehan. “Ken was able to achieve this and more.”

After a full day of lessons in a classroom setting, the group set off to put their new knowledge into practice. The next two days were spent visiting two women who have benefitted from NEF’s work in Lebanon—both Syrian refugees who have started small businesses with NEF’s help.  Iman, Fatima, and their families welcomed the new group of amateur photographers and journalists into their homes with open arms and great patience as they conducted interviews, gathered photos, and recorded videos.

Of the experience, Professor Harper says, “My time working with the Near East Foundation in Lebanon had a profound effect on me personally and professionally. The thoughtful respect they offered the refugee community was evident in everything they did.”

“I am proud to be affiliated with such an organization.” 

 

2018 NEF Comms Workshop

A Family Unites During Hard Times: Asma’s Story

 

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A large craft area now consumes the family room in Asma’s home. The table is cluttered with colorful fabrics, threads, candles, and patterns and drawing for new designs. Asma carefully crafts her newest creation, while her children prepare for their next trip to the local bazaar. By all accounts, Asma’s life looks happily busy and secure—but it’s been a difficult road to get to this point.

Asma grew up in the outskirts of Amman, married young, and gave birth to five children in quick succession: three boys and two girls. Life as she knew it changed dramatically when her husband unexpectedly passed away and Asma found herself entirely responsible for providing for five children. They had accumulated little to no savings and with only having a 10th-grade education Asma felt at a loss as to how she could support her family. To meet immediate needs, Asma took out a loan but found that she was only qualified to receive 200 JOD – her rent alone was 175 JOD. If her family were to safely survive their deteriorating situation, Asma knew she needed to find a way to earn a steady income.

Asma always had a special talent for creating toys for her children out of old or broken items around the house so thought why not turn this skill into an income. Asma immediately started to test her abilities—challenging herself to repurpose old items not only into toys but also into new household trinkets and accessories.

While her products improved, Asma still lacked the knowledge and guidance on how to turn her DSC_6222_editedcreations into a profitable business. After seeking help from the Ministry of Development in Jordan, Asma was referred to one of NEF’s Siraj Centers near her home and qualified to attend a business development training there.

On the first day of the training, she decided to bring some of her merchandise so she could showcase her business idea and test her products. The other women at NEF’s Siraj Center were so impressed that she actually ended up selling everything she brought that day. Asma felt encouraged by their warmth and support and felt she had finally found a place that would help her turn her life around.

With help from the training, Asma developed a formal business plan and was awarded a cash grant to help her buy the supplies she needed to improve the quality and increase the number of her products. She described NEF’s training as “the starting point of her life.” She went on to explain that through the training she was able to learn how to correctly price her items (taking into account the cost of her raw materials, time, and transportation to and from the bazaars) and deal with customers. Of equal importance to her was the sense of community she gained by being connected to such an encouraging group of women. She said that they continue to keep in touch, provide each other with support, and learn from one another.

DSC_6147_editNow remarried, Asma shares how supportive her family is of her business. Her eldest shared his pride in what his mother has accomplished saying that they have seen how hard she has worked to provide for them all these years which is why they want to support her work as much as they can. All of Asma’s children join her at each bazaar or craft festival she attends, helping her deal with customers and set up her display. Another one of her sons commented on how much he has learned about running a business from watching Asma, saying when he is old enough, he would like to take business classes like his mother took.

In the future, Asma hopes to expand by opening her own shop. She described NEF as a “shining star” that presented itself to her when she was most in need of help and went on to say, “I now am truly happy because I am financially secure and self-reliant.”

Because of the gratitude Asma feels for being able to turn her life around, she now makes time for her family to do voluntary work so they can give back and provide hope to families who are struggling.

NEF’s economic livelihoods work in Jordan is funded by the U.S. Dept. of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and City & Guilds.

Why we need to focus on long-term solutions to the refugee crisis

A field update from Andrea Crowley, NEF Director of Donor Engagement


HanaIn recent weeks, we’ve heard how international support for humanitarian assistance is falling dangerously short of what is needed – leaving 200,000 refugee families who are completely reliant on cash assistance in immediate risk. Without financial support, these families are forced toward dangerous coping mechanisms including unregulated labor, begging, child marriage, and radicalization – all of which further complicate and exacerbate the ongoing crisis.

On a recent trip to Jordan, I witnessed first hand the increasing need for long-term solutions and saw why passive cash assistance is simply not enough. When visiting with refugee families and hearing their experiences, I felt the weight of what they had been through, an acceptance that they would likely be a refugee from their home country indefinitely, and their desperation for a better life for themselves and their family.

One of the women I met with, Hana, is a refugee who has been receiving cash assistance from an international agency to support herself and her children (her husband died a few years ago). While extremely grateful for the support, she expressed living in a constant state of worry and stress of what would happen when this aid ended. The money she received also wasn’t enough to cover their basic needs (rent, heating and water). Hana knew that she needed to do something to earn money and become more financially secure. That is when she sought help from one of NEF’s Siraj Centers near her home.

At any one of the four Siraj Centers we’ve established in Jordan, refugees and vulnerable Jordanians are able to access training, counseling, and critical information needed to find jobs, start businesses, improve their physical and mental well-being, and strengthen their families’ economic resilience.

After attending one of our business development workshops, Hana started catering food out of her modest kitchen where she prepares popular dishes she learned to make from her mother as a young girl. From the profit she makes taking orders from her neighbors and the local supermarket, Hana is able to bring in a sustainable source of income to support her family’s needs. With a smile on her face, Hana told me that she feels much stronger now because she is able to depend on herself and not others.

“With a smile on her face, Hana told me that she feels much stronger now because 
she is able to depend on herself and not others.”

At NEF, we believe that providing people with safe opportunities to earn an income is critical for their survival. We are working hard to help people move past their reliance on passive aid by building their resilience and autonomy so they can independently generate an income. As support for international aid fails, our work is needed now more than ever.

I urge you to share this message and consider a gift to NEF today. It is up to us, and donors like you, to help others like Hana survive on more than humanitarian aid.

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Lead OOWB Farmer in Jordan Shares Lessons Learned

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Fatima may seem an unlikely Jordanian agricultural leader. At only 17 years old she was married and moved from the urban center of Amman to a rural farming village in Ajloun. While she didn’t have the opportunity to pursue an education growing up in the city, she fully committed herself to learning all she could about agriculture to help manage her new family’s 34-dunum farm. “In the beginning, I faced many difficulties and challenges in my new environment; city life is so different from the simple village life that depends on agriculture,” Fatima said. “I tried to adapt to my new life and my new society.”

Now 57 and a mother of six, Fatima is a lead farmer in NEF’s Olive Oil Without Borders (OOWB) project, which expanded to Jordan in 2017. Even though she has worked exclusively in Jordan’s agricultural sector for forty years, she told NEF that she has benefitted greatly from the information in NEF’s cross-border trainings and has shared her knowledge with other Jordanian farmers.

Similar to olive farmers in Israel and the West Bank, farmers in Jordan face challenges with olive diseases, water shortages, and ensuring the production of quality crops and oil. Fatima and her family specifically face many obstacles such as a lack of updated agricultural equipment, changing climate conditions, and a general lack of support for the agricultural sector in Jordan. Through the OOWB project, Fatima and others have been able to benefit from the knowledge of other olive farmers across the region. These interactions have reaffirmed her commitment to working together with her community to overcome some of these issues and improve their olive oil production.

With her dedication to this work and to teaching others, Fatima developed a Farmer Field School on her land with the help of NEF where she shares improved techniques for olive farming.

“Now, after my participation in this project, I’m even more interested in taking care of our farm and helping farmers in my village through what I have learned.” 

From the experience, Fatima has become a leader in her community. She shared her appreciation for the opportunities OOWB has presented for her personally and professionally, saying, “I received a lot of training to develop myself and increase my knowledge about agriculture and how to improve the quantity and quality of olive oil produced on my farm. I participated in all the trainings and activities organized by the project team, acquiring many experiences and skills, and increasing my knowledge. Because of this, I also felt more confident to start passing this information on and training farmers around me.”

As one example of how the project has transformed her confidence, Fatima shared, “During one training, I was teaching farmers how to make fly traps when my husband, who was participating, tried to suggest another method that was not correct. I stuck to what I knew and proved I was correct in the practical application. Now, my husband consults me on all agricultural matters and trusts my expertise!”

OOWB, implemented by the Near East Foundation and funded by the United States Agency for International Development, works to promote long-term, large-scale collaboration in the olive sector through cross-border initiatives and trade agreements that increase income, production yields, and regional trade. These efforts have so far brought together 5,000 Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli farmers, mill operators, producers, and other agricultural stakeholders.

Starting over: Iman’s Story

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These days, Iman and her husband Ahmed’s days are off to a busy start with a business to run, and a family to take care of. Shortly after rising Ahmed heads to their falafel stand to start preparations for the day. The kiosk is located within the informal tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, where they have resided since fleeing their home in Ghouta, Syria six years ago. Iman starts her day by tending to the children and their home. Once the kids are settled she heads to the kiosk to meet Ahmed where they get to work chopping, grinding, and preparing their homemade falafel and kabobs for the lunch rush. Iman makes the falafel, Ahmed grills the kabobs. Right now, life is manageable, peaceful, even hopeful.

This is a major departure from the chaos and uncertainty Iman and Ahmed felt after being forced to leave their home in Syria and arriving in Lebanon with their four children in 2012. Their fifth child, a beautiful little girl named Joumana, was born in the camp after they resettled. The two-room tent that they occupy is the only home she has ever known. They could not find work after they arrived. Ahmed was badly injured due to enduring shrapnel in his leg from a bomb, and Iman had severe back problems that greatly disabled her mobility. The family racked up around $1,500 in debt, a source of great stress for both Iman and Ahmed. Anything outside the bare minimum for the children was out of the question. Iman shared that the other women in the camp banded together to help her family, explaining that “they all take care of one another, it is very much like an extended family.” While comforted by their support, Iman knew they had to do something to start providing for themselves.

Over three-quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live on less than $4 per day and nearly 90% of refugee households are in debt.DSC_0333

When Iman was approached with the opportunity to join NEF’s livelihoods support program, Ahmed was skeptical. As they often do for hesitant spouses, NEF project staff invited him to sit in on the first business development training so that he could see it was legitimate and safe for his wife to attend. Even when Iman was having extreme problems with her back, and was considering discontinuing the classes, NEF’s Siraj Center team made special accommodations for transport to the classes. Iman explains that the training was very enjoyable for her. Even with the pain she was experiencing, she insisted on going because she says

“It made me feel so good to be there learning new things and relating to the other women.”

She says it raised her spirits and was a relief from the difficulties she was facing at home. She shared that she didn’t even know about the $850 project grant in the beginning—she just felt that the training and coaching was building her character, and made her feel like, “a more complete person.”  

Since starting their falafel stand, Iman and Ahmed have substantially paid down their debt. Their 13-year-old daughter, Bayan, says before the business Ahmed was often angry and stressed because of his inability to work and provide for their family but since it has been up and running, “the household is much more positive, everyone is less stressed.” In turn, Iman shared that her kids are, “smiling for the first time in a long time, they have hope.”

Beyond providing the household income, the kiosk has also helped them meet their neighbors. Iman explained that she loves getting to interact with the people in their community. The kiosk has become a hub for more than just food but also for friendship, laughter, and healing.

 

 

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Preserving Resources and Peace

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Eissa is 80 years old and a village leader in a remote village in South Kordofan. During his life, he has seen his village experience times of peace and times of great unrest caused by competition for territory and resources. He’s witnessed the resulting displacement and suffering these conflicts have caused as well as the degradation of the surrounding land and forests. 

In Sudan, NEF facilitates reconciliation among groups in conflict through collaborative natural resource management. This starts with the establishment of negotiated agreements between two or more groups that define the ground rules for management and access to resources such as water points, grazing land, and migration corridors. Eissa had this to report after participating in these negotiations,

“This process has helped us as sheikhs and Omdas (village leaders) tremendously. It helped raise awareness about the importance of conserving our natural resources, especially the forests. It’s also helped us decrease the amount of conflict between the pastoralists and the farmers in the area. The pastoralists are more committed to their corridors and now keep away from the farmer’s fields.”

This has been especially important during the summer when the severe lack of water prompts pastoralists to set up camps in areas called Damras (temporary nomad villages) and utilize the established community’s water pasture for livestock and village schools for their children. Eissa explains how children are uniquely positioned to mitigate conflict in this situation. “Now students at schools, especially the children of pastoralists who are just passing by, are raising awareness about natural resource conservation and management which has helped avert unnecessary conflicts that might occur in the area.”

While Eissa is encouraged by the progress that he’s seen, he hopes that the workshops on how to negotiate these agreements will continue, “We still need more of the management of conflict over natural resources workshops because we think it can extend the knowledge for more nearby Damras in the area.”

Vital to NEF’s peacekeeping and natural resource management initiatives in the region are efforts to increase the role of women in public leadership and group decision-making around these matters. Ensuring that women have a voice in the peacebuilding process is key to achieving long-term changes in attitudes around the valuable contributions of women in their communities. 

Using an inclusive approach, the agreements are collaboratively established with the help of the Near East Foundation (NEF), the National Forest Cooperation (NFC), village leaders, village women’s associations, and local authorities. With funding from Comic Relief, it has been almost a year now since these conventions were put into place in three localities, all with positive impacts.

Empowering Communities by Empowering Women in Sudan

In a village called Abu Jebeiha, NEF is training community members in how to use their new brick making machine. The machine was provided through NEF UK’s Empowering women in Kordofan through non-wood forest products for income and food security, funded by Comic Relief. 

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This brick making enterprise is one of 25 natural resource management (NRM) microprojects that form part of a wider effort, providing a sustainable income to communities with limited income generating options, while reducing deforestation and improving forest management practices. In this case the bricks will replace wood as a construction material, reducing the need to cut trees and providing a more durable quality of b­uilding. Other examples of these forest management microprojects include seedling nurseries to increase plant and forest cover in communities where land has been degraded, and providing gas cylinders to reduce the use of firewood. 

Additional efforts focus particularly on women in poor and remote communities, to increase their incomes and improve management of natural resources by introducing new techniques for producing and harvesting key non-wood forest products such as gum arabic, desert dates, honey, sider, baobab, and other local fruits that improve quality while reducing the degradation of the trees that produce them. The formation and capacity building of local “women’s associations” is the main entry point to the empowerment process that NEF seeks to achieve for women in these communities. The “Women’s associations”, act as a cooperative for producers and others to collaborate on marketing, commercialization, and management of natural resources. 

While over 5,500 people have directly benefitted from this work so far, the impacts reach far beyond natural resource management improvements and include enormous economic, networking, and psycho-social benefits. 


Increasing Distribution and Income

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With NEF’s help, association members from Al Odiat village have been able to upgrade their non-wood forest products through screening, sorting, adoption of improved storage techniques, new packing techniques, and increased efforts to prevent insect infestations. These enhancements, along with formalized packaging and branding, have resulted in a higher price for their goods. Another goal of the project is to help associations improve linkages with wholesalers, which gives them access to a wider market. The training NEF UK provided on management, communication, leadership, and business coaching has helped the association achieve this. NEF UK is also introducing microfranchising to these communities, facilitating enterprise expansion and creating a brand for these products that will further help them to access local, national and international markets. 

Changing Attitudes and Empowering Women

Fatima_SudanFatima is the chairperson of E’diat Shargia women’s association. Before the project, people in the village were unaware of how to maximize their income from non-wood forest products. Due to their perceived lack of value, the harvesting and management of these products was left to women in the community. When NEF’s project team came to her community, Fatima immediately got involved, seeing the potential impact in the work proposed. “I realized that the only economic resource that was exclusively under the control of women in the village was non-wood forest products,” says Fatima, “I thought that if women of my village managed to unite, they would contribute to increase their income and would gain respect from their husbands and other men.” The village has access to nabaq (Sider), gum arabic and laloub (desert date), but was not deriving much income from these products as they were either consuming them or selling the products raw and unprocessed. “I mobilized the women’s association members (men and women) and convinced them to get trained to produce improved products, this was done through peer training and project staff. Today every woman from the association that is involved in improved production says that she derives important revenues from it,” explains Fatima. Beyond the increases in income, she has also seen attitude and behavior changes related to deforestation, with many men planting sider and desert date plants in fields around the village. “This is one of my greatest satisfactions in life!” she says, outlining how she encouraged village members to set up household nurseries and for men to give land to women so they could plant trees too. She now believes that most the men in her village are supporting the association in various ways, and the village chief has said that the future of the community is now in women’s hands.

Click here to learn more about NEF’s work in Sudan.

 

 

Restoring Livelihoods and Lifting Spirits

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of families have fled war and violence in Syria and Iraq to seek refuge in Jordan – where over 738,000 refugees now reside. Upon their arrival, the struggle to gain their footing and rebuild their life begins and often continues for many years. It is in this landscape that NEF is working to provide both vulnerable Jordanian families and refugee families with safe and sustainable opportunities to earn an income and regain economic stability.

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1I1A5560 “It was a bad situation, to see your home fully destroyed after you had been living in it for almost 16 years; it is an extremely difficult feeling. But then you just think okay, aside from your health and the health of your children you can get through anything.”

Asma operates a local cooking business in Jordan. Her prepared meals and catered goods have gained a reputation in her neighborhood and demand for her product has grown, allowing the family to pay down their debts and meet their needs. She is proud of what she has been able achieve with this activity saying, “I have a stronger personality now. I want to make sure my product is perfect, unique, and different from the other products in the markets.” She has gained confidence and independence, especially with regard to decision-making on where to spend money, saying, “Now if my kids ask anything from me, I can do it.” 

Asma’s outlook is much different than just a few years ago in 2013 when Asma and her family were forced to flee their home town in Syria after their neighborhood was raided and bombed leaving their home destroyed. Like nearly 80 percent of  the refugees who seek safety in Jordan, Asma’s family chose not to remain in a refugee camp and moved into a low-income community in Jordan’s urban sprawl.

Although she and her husband found informal work cleaning houses, cars, and cooking for neighbors, they were unable to earn enough to meet the family’s basic needs. Describing this time, Asma said, “The monthly money that my husband was making was not enough to cover all of the monthly expenses. It ran out the middle of the month.”

Asma and her family faced many of the logistical and emotional challenges that confront refugee families starting over in a new place—difficulties finding sustainable, safe, and dignified jobs, accruing debt during the resettlement process, limited access to credit, feelings of isolation, acclimating children who have experienced trauma to new lives and new schools.  

The strain of these challenges reach beyond the refugee community to the host community as well—resulting in declining income and rising poverty, unemployment, and debt. Without help, vulnerable families often resort to harmful strategies such as begging, early marriage, or child labor to get by.

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NEF is working to address these issues by providing refugees and Jordanians with the support they need to overcome these mounting challenges and set out on a path to secure a steady source of income. NEF offers trainings on business development, employability, vocational trades, and financial literacy in some of Jordan’s most vulnerable communities. Paired with the trainings are small business grants, social networking, and on-going mentoring and coaching for new entrepreneurs.

Through NEF-led trainings, Asma learned how to develop a business model, market her products, interact with customers, set prices, and enter into new markets. With the project grant she received at the completion of the program, she purchased a refrigerator for food preservation, giving her as she says, the “push” she needed to really get started.

Asma’s household has seen a 50 percent increase in income from her cooking business. Her customer base continues to grow, and she is planning to invest in additional equipment and another refrigerator to keep up with increasing demand. The family has now started to save some money for the future and emergency expenses which brings Asma and her husband great peace of mind.

On overcoming the challenges she and other refugees face as they rebuild, Asma says, “Why should we be weak, we should be strong and able to face challenges. Why? For us, for our children, for the generations to come. We must persevere.”

 

Other stories of resilience:

1I1A5648“The honey trade is a beautiful business and a clean business. I hope to expand my business and develop it to export honey to Iraq or outside Jordan.”

Qaiser is 41 years-old. He is a husband and father of four, a son and three daughters. He and his family moved to Jordan from Iraq in 2013. 

Qaiser entered NEF’s program with the idea to start a business producing honey to be used for both general consumption and its homeopathic health benefits. His reason was simple, “It was an opportunity to start businesses so that we [refugees] are able to stop relying on assistance.”

For Qaiser, starting a small business was just as much about boosting his morale and motivation as it was to develop a source of income. While adjusting to his new life in Jordan, difficulties finding work and having to rely on humanitarian aid made it difficult for him to keep a positive outlook. He shared that he still finds it extremely difficult to think about his family back Iraq, especially his parents, but says, “There are big differences between now and before, any support that you get pushes you to improve and increases morale of the individual and the family.” 

1I1A5653When describing the circumstances under which they left Baghdad, Qaiser says, “There was sectarian turmoil. There were dead bodies in the streets, and I was afraid for my family.” That is when they left everything and came to Jordan to start a new life.

Now the whole family contributes to making the business successful. “They help so much in my business, and they work beside me preparing honey and filling bottles. They work with me for many hours, and they get as tired as I do,” says Qaiser. 

In addition to covering the family’s basic needs, profits from the business allow Qaiser to provide other items such as school stationary, toys for his children, and vitamins for his wife who is currently pregnant with their fifth child.

On what he learned from the trainings Qaiser says, “I benefited so much from my participation in the project, because I learned how to enter the market, how to do marketing for my product, how to build trust with customers, and many other things that improved my business idea.”

 

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“There are no challenges or obstacles too great for the blind. They have many opportunities but they need more support because the society has the wrong idea that the blind can’t do anything and they should just stay at home.”

Hanan is a 45-year-old Jordanian woman who sells hand woven goods to earn supplemental income to support her 18-year-old son. This is a worthy achievement in its own right, made that much more notable when considering that Hanan lost her sight when she was just 28 years-old. 

In recent years, Hanan has pursued a new chapter and become a skilled weaver. And with NEF’s assistance, she turned what was once a hobby into a way to generate income.

Hanan shared that it boosted her morale greatly when she learned that there was an organization interested in helping people like her, with disabilities. Of the training, she explained, “The trainer was so good and had an easy training methodology, and NEF’s team also had a good way of communicating with me. Therefore, I continued the training and the trainer explained everything to me and there were a lot of women participating, so it felt real and not like just a hobby.” With the knowledge she gained from NEF-led trainings, and the project grant she was awarded, Hanan purchased materials she needed and started getting her products in front of new customers at trade shows, public markets, and community association activities.

1I1A5615Hanan is steadily gaining more customers and bringing in around 20 JD ($30) per month in revenue from her business. She said that she now makes decisions at home about how to spend her money without having to ask permission and has confidence in her decisions and home management. She expresses her desire to continue to build her business saying, “I want to reach people with my products, and that was the most important thing to me. NEF supported me very much both physically and emotionally, I thank them so much for their efforts because this experience taught us [women] how to depend on ourselves, it taught me personally that the blind can do everything we want. I am able to prove to people that I can work and be productive.”

 

NEF’s work in Jordan is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) and City & Guilds.

Click here to learn more about NEF’s work in Jordan.

Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment in Armenia

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The absence of gender equality has been widely reported in Armenia not only at home, but also in the workplace where women’s prospects of employment and earning are far lower compared to men. Gender inequality is most evident in rural areas, where the prospect of employment is even lower, and women are even more vulnerable due to a lack of access to services that encourage gender equality and provide additional resources to support women at-risk of domestic violence or other forms of abuse.

In December of 2017, NEF UK launched a new project – funded by the European Union – that will strengthen the capacity of local civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide services focused on improving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in rural Armenia. These efforts build onto NEF UK’s recent work in Armenia that helped at-risk women start their own businesses and secure financial independence, while also working with CSOs to advocate for protections for survivors of gender-based violence.

NEF Project Director, Arpine Baghdoyan, who has been implementing economic empowerment programs in Armenia for many years now feels confident that, ‘’The project is a great opportunity to increase the development of social entrepreneurship in Armenia. The business models that we will work with CSO’s to create and operate, will highly improve their financial sustainability and increase their competitiveness overall.” 

NEF and its partners have found that through financial independence, women gain empowerment and the respect of their families and communities and, in turn, experience reduced violence or hostility in their homes and workplaces. As such, NEF remains committed to continuing to advocate for policies and systems that support and empower women in Armenia.

Many Armenian CSOs, including those that advocate for women’s rights and help women and children at risk, are heavily dependent on donor or government funding to operate. This means that they cannot plan their work in the long term, and during some periods they may not have the means to continue supporting women in need. NEF UK’s two-year project in partnership with the Women’s Development Resource Center Foundation (WDRCF), will seek to change this.

The project will support 12 CSOs in Aragatsotn, Gegharkunik, Lori and Syunik Marzes to launch or further develop social enterprise activities that will fund programs that benefit women in their communities in a variety of ways. The CSOs will be trained on business operations that will directly support their work to raise awareness of women’s rights and economic empowerment. Ultimately the project will ensure the ongoing operation of CSOs supporting women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in Armenia, benefitting the lives of all those reached by those organizations. Of the CSO’s participating, Ms. Baghdoyan says, “Selected CSOs are those established based on community needs, and now they will be able to highly contribute to solution of those needs such as providing job opportunities to women.’’ The CSOs who will benefit from the project look forward to greater financial and organizational stability in the coming years, allowing them to continue their important work.

Basis NGO is one of the CSO’s who will benefit from these efforts. Founder and Director of Basis, Anna Hovhannisyan, shared her thoughts on the project saying, ‘’We hope that through this project the social enterprises will be able to provide a gender-equal and inclusive way of creating jobs and tackling social issues in our region. NEF UK’s project will be pivotal to meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance in our communities.’’ 

Along with supporting over 600 vulnerable women (particularly survivors of gender-based violence and women at risk of gender-based violence), NEF UK’s efforts will also engage with a number of market actors and CSOs across Armenia to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Click here to learn more about NEF’s work in Armenia.