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.




Hawa, An Inspired Entrepreneur

DARFUR – Near East Foundation beneficiaries are known to be industrious and inspired when starting their enterprises. In Sudan, the beneficiaries of NEF and the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance’s Resources, Livelihoods, and Security project are no different. Walking through the markets of Abata, a small area southwest of the Central Darfur State capital of Zalingei, you will find Hawa Zakariya Mohamed, an NEF beneficiary and cloth seller. Hawa, 36, has a recently widowed niece with two children who fell on hard economic times.

“I benefited so much from NEF’s business training workshops,” Hawa says, “and I still remember every bit of it, so I began to teach my niece. Because I have had such good fortune from my business, I gave her money to start her own business.”

Hawa’s niece, 28, did just that. Using the tools and training Hawa taught her from NEF’s workshops, her niece began to sell traditional Sudanese foods in the same marketplace.

“She benefited from my advice and would always apply what she learned,” Hawa says. “My niece has now surpassed the hardship of life she had been in and she is moving forward. This has made me so content and satisfied.”




This story is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the Near East Foundation, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States government.

Palestinian Women Display Skills and Vision to Expand Their Businesses

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WEST BANK, February 2015 – Women play an integral role in the Palestinian economy. But many factors hinder their ability to launch and sustain viable businesses.

They face restrictions on their movements and security constraints. They have limited opportunities to meet successful role models and gain access to business associations. The majority of women-owned enterprises in Palestine are not registered with the Chamber of Commerce.

The Advancing Women’s Business in the Palestinian Territories project (AWBP), implemented by the Near East Foundation (NEF) in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Trafigura Foundation, aims to help Palestinian women entrepreneurs expand their businesses and drive economic development by supporting enterprises to be market- oriented, scalable, and generate jobs. The AWBP project focuses on the “missing middle” of women entrepreneurs, who have the potential to become an integral part of the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector, play a key role in revitalizing the Palestinian economy, and trigger social change.

In August 2014, more than 120 woman entrepreneurs attended events in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron that launched the project, which will provide them with the necessary skills and tools needed to take their business models to the next level. As a result of these events, more than 300 applications were received from moderate-sized businesses owned by women in the three target regions.

Initially, 114 applicants were selected for the intensive business and marketing training. After evaluation of their business plans and trainer feedback, the 60 top performing women entrepreneurs moved on the second phase of the project and are receiving intensive business coaching (additional applicants will join the project in 2015). In January 2015, 35 of these women entrepreneurs advanced to receive further one-on-one training, coaching, and financial support in an incubation-type process designed to quickly grow their businesses.

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Tailored training and support will not only strengthen the technical and managerial skills of the women entrepreneurs, but will also provide opportunities for the women to discuss and share experiences, exchange ideas, and expand business connections and relationships among their peers. For instance, during the training session in Hebron, Abeer Badwai secured six orders for her pastries from other participants. “The training was the best location to market my pastries,” Abeer says.