Kholoud, the trainer at the center, helps her students sew items from the leftover material bought at a discount from professional sewing shops. Credit: Alexandra Matijevic Mosimann/ICRC

Jordan: Learning new skills for a better future

The vocational training center in Mafraq, a Jordanian city of around 60,000 inhabitants near the border with Syria, is abuzz with the rhythmic sound of sewing machines. On the day we visited, five women were quietly sewing cushions and children’s clothes, helped by a teacher. All of them have fled violence in Syria.
Article 07 December 2021 Jordan

Basma’s home in Dara’a in southwestern Syria is only one hour-drive away, and she does not like talking about it. “I have nobody and nothing left in Syria. I was scared all the time [since the war started] and finally escaped with only the clothes on my back. Even in Mafraq, I get scared when I hear the sound of an airplane flying above the town”. 

Basma is one of the 15 women in Mafraq and Irbid who are currently sponsored by the ICRC to learn sewing or beauty care.  The Al Wisam Academy, established as a vocational training center in 2012, is certified by the Jordanian Ministries of Labor and Education. The certificates earned are recognized internationally. Additionally, the ICRC helps the graduates obtain a one-year work permit valid in Jordan. Most of the students applied for training to further develop the basic skills they had already possessed, hoping to find work in the shrinking job market and generate income for their families.

“I am grateful for having this chance to improve my sewing skills, as today women also need to support the family with income,” Basma continues. “At the center, I have learnt how to use the industrial machine and can now make children’s clothes. I sell them through WhatsApp and thus earn some money for my daughter and myself. ”

Another trainee, Khadija, is training to work in a beauty salon. Now 22 years old, Khadija fled Homs in Syria with her mother and three siblings at the age of 12, after her father had gone missing. “After five months of training at the center, I can do different styles of make-up, nail patterns, henna designs and wedding hairstyles. One day, I would like to go back to Syria and visit the place of my childhood, but this time has not come yet.”

Since 2019 when the ICRC started giving grants for vocational training, 27 men and women have learnt new skills that help them generate income for their families. Fourteen of them have received ICRC grants to start a small business and put their learnings into practice. With the money received, the women bought sewing machines or the material for hairdressing and make-up, while two men purchased the equipment for mobile phone maintenance. 

After the 15-month stand-still due to COVID, the vocational training started again in June 2021. “We were hard-hit by the imposed closure due to COVID-19” explains Wissam, the owner of the center. “Since re-opening, we have been rebuilding our business with a smaller number of students who all need to be vaccinated against COVID to be able to enroll”.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing loss of earnings forced several small businesses in the Mafraq area to close down. Making a living has become increasingly difficult for refugees with limited opportunities of earning an income. Upskilling provides hope for better tomorrow to the women who are trying hard to start afresh and forget how their past was impacted by the war.