Ahlam’s three young children burst into laughter as they chase each other outside the family’s new mini-market in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. From inside the store, Ahlam and her husband keep a watchful eye on the trio as they meticulously review the daily accounts.
“With this shop, our lives have grown,” explains Ahlam, a former primary school teacher. “Before we just stayed in our rented house, in a small room, it felt like a jail. But now, with this shop our children are outside all of the time, they feel free.”
Unable to secure teaching work in Lebanon, Ahlam decided to register for NEF’s livelihoods project, setting her sights on developing a business plan and securing a cash grant. Her fortitude and focus paid off, she accomplished her goal and more. “The training helped with book-keeping and accounting, but I also learned I could change my life. I found a purpose.”
After renting a small garage near their home, purchasing shelves, a fridge, and negotiating with suppliers the couple opened their doors with a clear commitment to reinvest everything back into the business for the first six months. “The situation is continuously improving,” Ahlam reported, adding that the business was increasing their social networks and sense of freedom, “We are attracting customers because we value relationships, and because we own the shop, we are in control.”
The journey has not been without challenges, but Ahlam and her husband are strong in the face of criticism from conservative voices who insist that a woman’s place is in the home, “I ignore the criticism and rely on the trust that we are in this together,” Ahlam said.
The impacts of Ahlam’s achievements on her immediate family are clear, but she shares that the impact extends beyond Lebanon, “I am so happy and our extended families are equally relieved and happy for us. They were always so worried knowing that we didn’t have a way to make ends meet.”