Syria remains the world’s largest and most complicated humanitarian crisis. As governments and international organisations gather to discuss the coming year’s aid to Syria, the Red Cross is helping people to return to a more normal life.
You wouldn’t usually find a fully-fitted beauty salon inside a small rented apartment in a suburb of Damascus, Syria’s capital.
But Amani and her friend Rouda set up just such a salon six months ago after attending a hairdressing course run by our partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
For Amani, becoming a hairdresser was a chance to pursue a dream and to support her family after losing her husband and home.
“When I heard about the course I signed up straight away,” she said.
“I had thought about becoming a hairdresser before I was married – I’d always had this idea. For me, it is like art.”
Amani, her husband and their two children fled to the suburb with nothing after fighting near their home in the countryside.
“When we left there was fighting, even very near to our home. There were mortars and gunshots and people died… I was afraid for my children,” Amani recalled.
After they reached safety, Amani’s husband returned home to bring some supplies. The family never saw him again.
Amani was recently told that he was dead, but she has no official confirmation.
“I am upset, even though we do not know for sure – but mostly I am sad for my children. Every time I look at them my heart hurts,” she said.
This is one reason why the hairdressing course has been so valuable to Amani.
Not only does it give women the skills and knowledge to earn an income for their family, it also restores a sense of dignity and self-esteem.
Appearances can be deceiving
“To begin with I did hair for the Red Crescent volunteers, trying out my skills on them,” Amani said.
With the centre’s support, Amani and Rouda then set up the front room salon with a generator, chairs, equipment and beauty products.
They now have regular clients and hope to move and expand their business soon.
“Once I had a customer – her hair was green,” Rouda said.
“She came here without any hope – she did not look good. She wasn’t sure I would be able to help her.
“I removed the colour – she had bleached her hair and applied a dye on top. And then I re-dyed her hair. When she got out she was so happy, and I was happy because I had been able to help her.”
For both women their skills provide not only a way to make a living, but to help other local women who fled their homes.
“It is a nice feeling to be able to do something that makes them feel good,” Amani said.
“This profession is related to psychology, I think. It helps bring happiness to people. Also for me too – when you focus on something and produce a good result, you feel good.”
“There is no difference between us”
Across the border in Jordan, a group of women meet at a Jordan Red Crescent vocational training centre every Saturday morning.
Nisreen is from Jordan and this is where she met Faten, her best friend.
Both women have found new skills so they can earn money to help their families. The latest course is in baking.
Faten used to work as a nurse in Homs, Syria. Then in 2012, she and her four children fled to Jordan to escape the fighting.
Her husband was able to move to Sweden with their son and they hope that one day they will be reunited.
“We feel so comfortable with each other. We are equals here, like sisters. The chef is so helpful and positive. Nisreen is a very good person,” Faten said.
Nisreen explained they would like to open up a small bakery using the skills they have learned here.
She said: “The Red Crescent has done everything to help us and we have to use the experience to help others.”
Once they complete their course, all the women will receive a small oven and gas canister to help them get started.
“One day, when I return to Syria, I will be able to use these skills to rebuild my life,” Faten said.
Holding the family together
For people touched by the Syria conflict, getting back to work is a top priority.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent is working in Syria and neighbouring countries to help people – particularly women – do just that.
“It’s usually the women left holding the family together,” said Hosam Faysal, our Syria crisis programme manager.
“Often the men may have been killed or are missing, or may have left Syria for many reasons, including to find sanctuary for their family.
“That leaves the women to provide for themselves and their children. Our livelihood courses give them a helping hand so they can look after themselves and not depend on aid handouts.
“They also help to empower women to take an active role in the future rebuilding of Syria.”