Sewing for a better life: Internally displaced persons regain hope

An internally displaced woman receives guidance from the sewing workshop manager who is also internally displaced.

(Homs-Syria)- The Syrian economy has experienced a massive de-industrialization as a result of business closures, major capital out flight, looting and destruction. Lack of cash and finding means of living are major challenges faced by most of the 6.5 million internally displaced people of Syria.  There are approximately 2.3 livelihoods lost so far due to the crisis and much of this displaced population has exhausted its savings and resorted to negative coping mechanisms such as selling off assets, reduction in the food ratios or meals, and other unfavorable social solutions.

Highlights

  • Hostilities have cost the economy over US$ 103 billion by mid-2013, equivalent to 174 percent of the 2010 gross domestic product.

Moreover, the implosion of the formal economy has directly enhanced the role of the informal economy in which rent-seeking activities taking place are risking to plague post-crisis economic regulation, reform, equity and development.

 “Seeking a safe haven means leaving everything behind or sometimes selling off belongings just to get by” said Ahmad who used to own a textile factory in Aleppo and is now displaced in neighboring Homs with his family of seven. “We used to have a life, all my kids were at school, but all that seemed to be part of the past” continues Ahmad who at some point was clueless as how to continue his children’s education or even provide them with sufficient nutrition.

Whether living in formal or informal shelters or hosted by a community, the internally displaced population of Syria are suffering from a great loss of income and productive means. While some have been able to re-establish themselves with the help of relatives or friends, many have not been so lucky. The support mechanisms available to IDPs are extremely strained due to limited resources and depleting savings of both internally displaced people and their hosting communities

As the armed conflict drags on, IDPs whose livelihoods have been disrupted are becoming highly dependent on charity support in order to survive. Unemployment - already an issue before the crisis has now reached close to 50 percent of the working population. Hostilities have cost the economy over US$ 103 billion by mid-2013, equivalent to 174 percent of the 2010 gross domestic product. 

To help IDPs like Ahmad, UNDP has been working closely with NGOs in order to   enhance their resilience and coping mechanism through quick impact projects.

“It is important to enable a person who lost everything to be hopeful again” says Tareq Safar, who is UNDP’s project coordinator in Homs and currently manages a sewing workshop that employs 100 IDPs. “The uncertainty these people feel is enormous, and reviving their morale through productivity has been the key ingredient to their coping and resilience” continued Tareq.

Set up in collaboration with the local Al- Birr NGO, the sewing workshop is fully equipped with machines, furniture and dedicated work stations for each working IDP. The products made by this workshop are mostly bedding sheets and clothing garments.

The products produced by the IDPs within the workshop are immediately purchased by the Al- Birr NGO who has been distributing such items along with non-food items to other IDPs all over the county. In return, IDPs like Ahmad receive a cash payment that equates to at least 300 USD a month.  

“We distribute over a thousand bedding sheets every week, to people who lost their assets and are being hosted or hosting IDPs” says Samira Najjar, from the Al- Birr NGO.

With many textile factories out of business, this sewing facility which is located at a basement of an apartment building in the city of Homs has enabled participating IDPs to find a suitable way to make an income.

“Although I used to make much more money as a factory manager, the money I make from this workshop is a blessing to my family” said Ahmad who also helps out in managing and training other IDPs on sewing techniques. With over 25 years of experience, Ahmad has become an asset to the facility and ensures that productivity takes course throughout the six hours of work.

The workshop produces an average of 100-150 bedding sets a day. These sets are ironed and packaged as they would be in any commercial factory and then handed over to the NGO for distribution.

For Ahmad the sewing workshop has brought much needed cash for his family. The cash acquired by Ahmad is spent on feeding his family, and providing health specialized care when needed. While Ahmad still receives food assistance from local NGOs, the 300 USD he makes is pivotal for his family’s survival.

“I am glad I no longer have to depend on the cash holdouts I used to receive from charities, Now I can regain back my dignity and hope for better days ahead” says Ahmad.

Given the success of this initiative, UNDP is now setting up an additional three facilities with the Al- Birr NGO in the governorates of Al- Hassakeh, and Tartous  in order to target more IDPs who are in desperate need of income generating work.

“I must not stop working” declares Ahmad, who has been adamant to ensure that while he lost his job as a factory manager in Aleppo, he has not lost his sewing skills.

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