It is morning and Najwa, 44, carries a small rug out of her home and lays it on the side of the road under the weak winter sun. She goes inside again and comes out carrying her elderly mother, who she places gently on the rug so she can receive some fresh air and sunlight.
Najwa cannot afford to warm her home, a makeshift shelter in an unfinished building. A mere blanket hangs over the doorless entrance to the small stark room that she, her mother and two young daughters share. Inside, the room is bare, save for a chair, an unused heater, a rack that holds kitchen utensils, a few rugs, and clothes hanging on lines along the walls. Having cleaned the room and prepared breakfast on a small wood stove outside that she lights with grass — wood and gas are unaffordable — Najwa prepares for work.
Najwa has a temporary job picking olives at a nearby plantation courtesy of a work placement program run by CARE through its partner, Shafak in Northwest Syria. The work is seasonal, but Najwa is grateful.
“I thank God for Shafak. It has been difficult. Since my husband died, I’ve been looking for work, doing any odd jobs I can to earn a living,” says Najwa. “Through this work, I have been able to get experience, make contacts and develop friendships.”
Najwa’s husband died from a heart disorder after the family was displaced from their home. Before he died, he managed his own grocery business. But war destroyed his shop along with the family’s home and all their possessions.
“My daughters are young and my mother can not work. We have no one to spend on us. We need proper housing. My mother needs medicine, and my daughters should be in school,” she says.
Being forced to shoulder the burden of care for her disabled mother and underage daughters while in displacement has been a difficult adjustment for Najwa. Without formal training or work experience, it has been especially difficult for her to find employment.
She has had to depend on loans and donations from family and friends. Having to leave her disabled mother and young daughters alone and unprotected all day is difficult for Najwa, but she has no option. The family needs to eat and Najwa is determined to be self-sufficient.
“The owner of the olive plantation likes our work. He told us to come back and work for him after our work placement ends,” she says with a smile.
“As Syrian women, our desire to make a better life for our children is what keeps us going. Despite our suffering and many problems, our one goal is to provide a decent life for our children.”