“I loved my home. I loved it a lot. I was very happy. Everything used to be so normal, as it should be.” Khadija* fondly remembers life in her Syrian home town before the conflict broke out. “I would like to tell people that Syria was once such a lovely place,” she says. “You always feel that you are missing something when you are not in your own country.”
Khadija and her three children have been living as refugees in Lebanon since 2013. Like thousands of other once middle-class Syrian families, they have struggled to get by with very little. Most fled their homes with nothing. But Khadija is both strong and optimistic. “Though there are a lot of things I miss… it’s okay. I realize how lucky I am.”
Khadija was one of 25 women who were selected to work at local cooperatives, where she learned how to make all kinds of cheeses, which are then sold locally. The project is part of a network of income-generating projects run by Concern in northern Lebanon for both refugees and members of the host community. In this tiny country, nearly a third of the population are refugees, putting huge pressure on resources.
“I aim to go back to Syria someday, rebuild my home.”
The skills being taught are useful now, but have also been chosen with an eye to the future. Dairy production, yogurt and cheese processing, and marketing techniques will remain as valuable resources for those who return to Syria to pick up the pieces of a shattered economy.
And Khadija is ready. Despite being many miles away from her home due to a protracted Syrian crisis, she says the key to its front door is still her most treasured possession. “I may have lost my home, but my keys are still with me. I aim to go back to Syria someday, rebuild my home, and use the same keys for it,” she says.
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Lama* was a university student when the war broke out. “There were lots of bombs going off. That’s why we left the city to seek freedom. We fled to safety to several different places. Lebanon was the last. I was not afraid of death, but the conflict and the bombs terrified me.”
But Lama too retains fond memories of home. “I like to tell people that Syria was the most wonderful country in the world. I hope things will be better in the future.”
Lama and her family live in a tent. There’s little to do and their options for earning a living are limited. Those who stay in temporary settlements (there are no formal camps) have limited facilities and are exposed to the brutal winter weather.
Embroidery would seem like an unlikely solution to their problems, but it just might be Lama’s path to a new profession. “Concern is helping me by giving me valuable embroidery training,” she says. “I’m learning new skills every day. I would like to open a small embroidery and sewing business.”
Skills and livelihoods is a big part of what Concern is supporting in Lebanon. Carpentry training, eco-friendly roofs for micro-gardening, livestock breeding and management, cherry tomato and leafy green cultivation — there’s a lot going on!
“Say yes to every opportunity.”
And Lama’s advice to her fellow refugees? “Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, since you never know when the next one will come.” We are delighted to be able to facilitate and hope to generate more opportunities in the months to come.
*Names have been changed for security reasons.