An invitation to meet the teachers and volunteers at the Syrian Women’s Association (SWA) in Amman was a golden opportunity to see the Muslim faith in action — thanks to Eman (from Gaza) and Maryam (from Malaysia).
My friend in Amman braved the crazy city traffic, including a fender bender, to take me to the center and translate for me.
This was a special day at the SWA — they were celebrating the good work of the many volunteers who teach Syrian women how to sew, style hair, or cook — all with the goal of learning skills that can be used to earn a living to support themselves and their families. They also teach English lessons.
The SWA’s model is a very smart way to make a big difference in the lives of many Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan. The women learn how to sew and make new garments on an electric sewing machine. When they finish, each refugee can keep her sewing machine. Later, she returns to the SWA with the clothes she’s made at home. The SWA pays her for each item she has made and then turns around to sell the hand-made clothes in Amman to support the work of the SWA.
It appears to be a very solid, sustainable model that gives each refugee new skills, independence and self-respect — a much better way to help than the model of dependency and donations that many larger NGOs use. (I heard whispers about the corruption that exists in some of the foreign NGOs.)
The SWA is run by a woman who fled Syria many years ago because she was facing imprisonment there. I think she traveled alone to Jordan, studied religious teachings and ended up marrying another Syrian she met in Amman who is now a doctor. She started the SWA ten years ago before the current fighting but now, of course, there is a much greater need for assistance.
She runs it with a few employees but most of the teachers are volunteers. In addition to the women who receive training, the SWA provides an after-school program for Syrian orphans. My friend from Amman, a retired teacher, was so impressed with the organization that she offered to volunteer!
I was reminded again how small and interconnected our world is when a Syrian woman at SWA asked me where I’m from. “New Mexico, USA,” I told her, half expecting that she might confuse New Mexico with Mexico. She smiled and told me “My Uncle lives in Gallup, New Mexico.”
The take-away message for me — after my short visit at the SWA — is that small organizations run by big hearts can make a huge difference in the lives of many. The world needs to look closely at the model used by SWA — local, hands-on, self-sufficient, respect and sustainable. Women helping women — one stitch at a time.