March 3, 2023

It’s not just a product; it’s a whole story

Lara Shahin, a survivor from Syria fled to Jordan in 2012 due to the Syrian crisis. Lara used to serve as an accountant in Syria, but in Jordan, she struggled to find a decent job opportunity which motivated her to establish her own business and, in five years, resulted, securing jobs for more than 15 survivor women.

Ten years ago, Lara was living in Damascus, Syria. Fearful for her family, she fled to Jordan, left her job, and her dreams and all plans were changed. “ back home, I worked as an accountant, but that was a luxury only for fun and having a good time, but everything changed when I arrived Jordan as finding a decent job opportunity became essential to survive,” Lara says. 

Non-Jordanian employees are permitted to work in certain occupations per the Jordan Ministry of Labour’s instructions. Accounting is one of the closed occupations for Syrian refugees, forcing Lara to look for different solutions. In the first months of her arrival in Jordan, Lara volunteered with various International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) that support refugees. She met families from different areas of Syria, host communities and survivor women. 

Lara built relationships with Syrian refugee women in Jordan during her volunteer work. She noticed that most women master at least one craft, like natural products such as skincare and soap production, sewing, and producing materials related to wool and handmade textiles. “ Syrian girls are generally known for their crafting skills, and usually, they do things for their families and kids,” Lara adds. 

New life, a new beginning, new ideas, and an unstoppable soul

Lara started thinking of partnering with those women, where they can contribute with their skills, and she contributes with small venture capital and her accounting and management skills. This was the beginning of the journey of “Jasmin”.“Jasmine to me is home, my home Damascus is known as The City of Jasmine, that’s why I named this project Jasmine and holding on to that concept we always think of better things we can do to support it depending on what we have learnt back home.” Jasmine started with only five women who started exploiting their skills to manufacture soap, skin care products and dolls. The beginning was not easy at all, as they were able to produce only, but the team had no plans for how to sell and how to deal with the market. 

“ We overcame a variety of barriers since the first day, the technical and the cultural challenges; How will we operate? How will we sell the products, and how to deal with customers? And the cultural challenge was how to find a suitable place for women to work outside their home,” Lara added. 

Lara’s business joined SPARK’s programme, Jobs and Perspectives, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which provided the business with technical and capacity-building training through SPARK’s partner, International Group For Training (IGIT) that resulted in launching an e-commerce platform for the business, finding solutions for the cultural barriers by giving refugees women opportunities to work from home and this resulted into expanding the team from 5 to 30 women. 

The access to finance and access to new markets training paved the way for Lara to start organising workshops for vulnerable women in soap making, tailoring and embroidery art. Courses now train women for free in diffierent crafts and the importance of making sustainable products, from raw material to the ultimate value of the product and led to join Airbnb experiences in Jordan where tourists can book sessions to learn soap manufacturing. 

Jasmine Survivors 

Lara initiated Jasmine Survivors in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic; it’s a campaign for women who have been through physical, financial, political, verbal, and all different types of abuse.

“We started the campaign in Jordan and met with many women who have been through different kinds of abuse, so we conducted a workshop for vulnerable women that lasted for three months; due to Covid-19, it had to be done through online sessions, we created a place for the women where they can share their stories and at the same time sell the products they learnt to make here at Jasmine.

The campaign achieved great success and a dream come true for Lara; she decided to move further with it and organised this campaign to happen in Syria, 30 women were trained in Syria, and they now have virtual stores where they can sell their products; Lara ended her story by saying “it’s not just a product, it’s a whole story.”