For the roughly 400,000 people trapped in the besieged areas of Eastern Ghouta the situation is dire. In addition to the ever-present threat of snipers, mortar fire and aircraft shelling, access to basic goods and emergency supplies is highly precarious. Cut off from the rest of the world by the siege, both formal and informal commercial access is heavily curtailed. As a consequence, commodities in local markets suffer from regular shortages and wild price fluctuation, leaving the area’s inhabitants extremely vulnerable.
This vulnerability can be particularly acute for groups of women who find themselves in challenging circumstances, such as being the sole breadwinner of a household. Even in the context of a siege, women often have relatively fewer opportunities and are therefore disproportionately affected, frequently forced to rely on charitable hand-outs or humanitarian aid.
Tackling this vulnerability is Women for Development, a Syrian that aims to create stable jobs and income for women to the overall benefit of their communities. In November of 2016, Women for Development initiated a small grants program which aimed to take 30 talented, active and creative women and providing them with the training and means to start sustainable business in the community. enrolled them in a business and entrepreneurship training course.
The first step of the small grants program was a 3-month training course led by certified professionals covering project management and planning, administrative development, and management science. As part of the course, the participants were asked to suggest several practical projects that they were willing and able to work on with their newly developed skills. Among the projects selected, 3 were eventually chosen to receive grants for implementation:
Establishing a cybercafé for women with an attached playroom for children in two cities of Al Ghouta. It’s the first experience of its kind, adopting the idea of bringing women to use internet in the cybercafé leaving their kids nearby playing in the playroom, which will benefit both sides.
- An alternative energy project for water withdrawal.
- A clothing store for women.
The projects are now well underway and have proceeded even in the most difficult of circumstances. Eastern Ghouta suffered from exceptionally heavy shelling in the early months of 2017, resulting in the demolition of many buildings and a shortage of materials and tools originally earmarked for the projects. Demonstrating inspiring hardiness and adaptability, the team of women worked together to secure safe, subterranean locations for their enterprises and found adequate replacements for the missing materials.
Women for Development continues to support these projects and provides ongoing management consulting to ensure their sustainability. Based off their success, Women for Development aim to expand the small grants project as soon as possible to empower even greater numbers of poor, marginalised and vulnerable women.