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A journey from loneliness and distress to hope and strength, Reem tells her story

In 2017, Reem Mohamed, a (33) Syrian woman, fled with her husband and two children as war engulfed her countryReem is a young Syrian woman, married with two children, who have been living in Egypt since then. Reem is originally from Damascus countryside,  had to move to the capital, Damascus, when her village was declared a war zone. “Although we thought that the capital would be a safer place for us, we lived very hard times. The economic conditions were very bad. No life, no electricity, no safety, and the capital was under attack all the time,” she says.

At that time, Reem and her husband realized that it was about time to flee the country. “We have already lost our home, our business and we left with nothing,” Reem explains. The family left everything behind: their families, friends and country. “We had some savings; so we took our passports and left the same night,” she adds.

The trip to Cairo was not without risks. They lack food and water during their trip which lasted for hours. “Travelling in such terrible conditions and with two children – a 3-years-old son and a six-month-old daughter was a nightmare,” she says.

The family headed to Alexandria to join their relatives there. Her husband tried to start a food processing business. But the business failed and he lost most of his capital. He had to work as an employee in another business.

Adapting to her new life is another challenge for Reem. Badi Ahwa” (I want to buy coffee) is a simple expression that was not understood by Egyptians”! “People did not understand what I was trying to say,” Reem says. She explains that she never thought that the difference of dialects would be a problem when she decided to move to Egypt. “I know that I am in a better situation than other Syrians who live in isolated camps elsewhere. Here, we live among Egyptians and as part of society. However, the integration is still not that easy. The difference in dialects, cultures, and even in food is obvious.” she underlines.

At the beginning, I used to take care of my house and children only. I used to spend days alone, with no one even knocking at my door,”  she adds.

Reem could not easily adapt to her new life or integrate into a new country. But when she joined a Whatsapp group in her neighbourhood, she was introduced to a CARE Friendly Space. Located in Agami, Alexandria, CARE Friendly Space is a safe place for women created in neighbourhoods where the majority of residents are Syrian refugees.

This place offered Reem an opportunity to network with other refugee women from different countries, including Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea as well as Egyptians. Activities such as sewing, drawing, cooking, psychological support or even just information sessions about the legal status of refugees, their rights and duties in their new host community were organized.

“This place allowed me to communicate again with people like me, speaking the same language, dialect and with similar stories. I felt home again,” she says. “I learnt to draw, sew and make string art. I displayed my artwork in exhibitions and sold some of my work. But it all stopped with the pandemic,” she adds.

Then, came the COVID-19 pandemic

With the outbreak of the pandemic, Reem, like many other families, went through a difficult time. There was little income and nowhere to go. Even the Friendly Space that she used to consider as her only recreational and learning centre closed its doors during the lockdown. She could no longer connect with her peers.

Podcast Training

Our team at CARE Egypt understood the feelings of loneliness and the profound depression of these women during the lockdown.   Hence, we created “Lametna” (Our Gathering), a new podcast as a way for female refugees to reconnect.

Season 1 episodes focused on opening a safe space to express their feelings and offering psychological support. Then, twenty Syrian and non-Syrian women refugees volunteered to train in program hosting.

Reem was one of the participants. She hosted a program that she named “Nasij Al-Hekayat” (Weaving Tales). “I had the opportunity to speak about everything: my memories, me being a bride in my house back in Syria nine years ago, about refugees who drowned at sea, about success and failure, my artwork and many other topics,” she explains.

In six months, we podcasted 100 episodes. We reached 7707 listeners from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, the USA and Iraq.

Reem left Syria with her 3-year-old son and 6 months-old baby. Four years on, Reem still gets scared when hearing an airplane passing by. The war memories are still vivid in her mind. However, she is full of hope that one day all the hard times would be gone and maybe one day they will go back to their country so that the children meet their grandparents, uncles and aunts for the first time in years.

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Nesma Ramadan from marginalized divorced woman to successful entrepreneur

Once married ten years ago, Nesma was a
housewife. After a three-month marriage, Nesma
got divorced. Since that time, she did not have
anyone to support her financially. Her father
passed away. Her brother helps but he still needs
to meet the needs of his children. “Even the
EGP 300 divorced pension I used to receive was
stopped due to some employee’s mistake,” she
explains. “We used to argue a lot. He slapped me
many times. When it was all over, I felt very down.
Yet, I had to do something with my life”, she says.
Nesma, now living with her mother, in Dayrout
El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate, started with
a grocery store; however, it did not work out well.
“It was not lucrative enough. Moreover, when my
mother got sick, I had to leave everything for her,”
she says. “But how can we live with my mother’s
four-hundred EGP pension?”
At that time, the project facilitators were reaching
out to local communities in the targeted villages
of both Assiut and Beni Suef. When the facilitator
reached out to her, Nesma did not have income
at all. “I like sewing a lot. Since I was a little girl, I
remember that I loved watching my aunt sewing.
I even learnt it at school but it was not enough.
I dreamt to have my own income. I did not want
to be a burden on my brother anymore. I want to
generate my own income just like he does”, she
underlines.
Marwa Hussein, Agriculture and Natural
Resources Program Director says, “We believe
that development of Upper Egypt is highly
intertwined with women empowerment. For
this reason, CARE, Egypt works on promoting
income-generating activities to create selfsustained
businesses for women. Women in rural areas still are not actively participating in
economic activities. Lately, with CARE efforts,
women are more engaged in income-generating
activities which has led to better positioning for
women in household decision-making and better
livelihoods for their families.”
The association provided training to accepted
applicants. Nesma received a training on sewing
before handing her a sewing machine. “I started
with sewing two bed sheets. I paid EGP 200 for
the fabrics and the association gave me the
sewing machine worth of EGP 1000”, she says.
“I sold the bed sheets, then made more and more.
I started selling to my sister and neighbors. One
of my neighbors took me to the school where
she works to sell my products to her colleagues.”
Since then, Nesma expanded the network of
her clients and went to several exhibitions to
display her products. “I can earn up to EGP 1000
per month. I am now more experienced when
it comes to buying fabrics and bargaining with
traders”, she adds.
“I dream of expanding my business, building-up a
good reputation around the neighboring villages
and maybe start marketing my products online to
penetrate new markets”, Nesma says.

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Aida, hairdresser and stylist in Al-Ezzeya village

Aida Shafik introduced herself as an illiterate housewife and mother of three children. At least this is how she used to be. Aida lives with her husband and children in Al-Ezzeya village, Manfalot disctrict (Markaz) since over 10 years now. For her, life was harsh until she heard about Hayat Kareema project. “I once went with a relative to a hairdresser and saw her pay 200 EGP. I can become a hairdresser. My husband works all day under the burning sun of Assiut just to come back home with few pounds that do not cover our expenses. I know I can help”, Aida says. Aida faced many challenges before she could fulfill her dream. Norms put many restrictions on women’s freedom of movement and limit their ability to conduct profitable activities outside their homes. Women work is often shameful in Upper Egypt. At the beginning, Aida’s husband refused the idea: the business needs a capital to buy equipment, while his income barely covered the family basic needs. More and above, Aida did not have the skills needed to conduct a business of hairdressing. In addition, it is out of question for her and her husband to leave the house and spend few days in Assiut to get the required training there. At that time, her dream was far away from becoming true. To improve the economic opportunities for women in poor communities like Aida, Hayat Kareema distributed sub-grants to 130 local grassroots associations, 60 of whom supporting women, to launch micro-projects in order to ensure better livelihoods for themselves and their families. Why women? “Because we believe in the role of
women in improving livelihoods of their families and children. We also fully understand that many of the social issues that women face including domestic violence, early marriage as well as other problems are strongly related to crushing economic challenges”, Howaida Nagy, Project Manager at CARE explains. The community development association (CDA) in her village just made an announcement for women to present their applications. Approved candidates receive training sessions in order to gain the necessary skills for running their new businesses. For example, Aida received a two-week training at the local association on all aspects of hairdressing business. The association contracted a professional hairdresser from Cairo to come over in Assiut and train 15- 20 women the necessary skills for becoming a hairdresser. “I’d like to thank our trainer for everything he taught us. I did not come out of the training as a super hairdresser but I learned a lot. With practice and ongoing communications and advice from our trainer, I even became a better hairdresser”, she said. With a growing business, Aida can now support her children. “I am now capable of meeting my children needs and offer them a decent life. I say to every women out there: “work as long as you want to. People will talk anyway, so let them talk about me doing something useful for my family”, Aida says. Today, Aida’s husband supports her. He supports with food preparation for their children and makes sure they study their lessons. Now, Aida is thankful for him, as he also wants to see this business grow.Aida, hairdresser and stylist in Al-Ezzeya village Photo credit: Doaa Hamdy

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Survived by raising chicken, Dalia Moawad tells her story

Dalia Moawad, a mother of five children, two of them from a previous marriage of her husband, tells us her story about how raising chicken saved her and her family. She lives in Melaheyat Sa’id village, Beni Suef. Her father-in-law kicked her and her family out when she told him about her chicken project. For him, selling chicken in the market is “a scandal for the family”, she says. She went to live in another house that she built when relations got so complicated with her father-in-law. They moved to a one-room house with no ceiling, no windows, no electricity and no water. Literally, they had nothing, not even money to buy food. Her husband works as a daily worker. Whenever he works, he is paid 30- 40 EGP a day. “Work was not a privilege. I needed to feed my children”, Dalia says. Dalia decided to choose duck raising at home after the association approved her candidacy. This was the perfect choice for a mother of five children. With a grant of 2000EGP and 200 EGP that she paid, Dalia got 25 ducks and 75 kilograms of feeds. Before receiving ducks, participants attend training sessions about raising ducks, feeding and vaccines. “Selling ducks was not easy. This is why I decided to shift to chicken in the second round. It is easier to sell”, she adds. Raising chicken is a profitable business but requires a lot of effort. Dalia has raised 50 chicken in the first cycle, 75 in the second cycle and 100 in the third. “I doubled my profits. My neighbors keep telling me they want to start their own businesses too. They ask me for advise”, she explains.
Thanks to her efforts, Dalia was able to get electricity, install glass for the window and a door for the house. Despite of her successful business, Dalia remains among vulnerable groups. Her son broke his arm few weeks ago and needed a quick surgery. Unfortunately, she had to use all of her profits to pay for the surgery. Now, she lost most of her capital and has to start all over again. Meanwhile, Dalia keeps dreaming of expanding her business and ensuring her children go to school.

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Nesma Ramadan from marginalized divorced woman to successful entrepreneur

Once married ten years ago, Nesma was a housewife. After a three-month marriage, Nesma got divorced. Since that time, she did not have anyone to support her financially. Her father passed away. Her brother helps but he still needs to meet the needs of his children. “Even the EGP 300 divorced pension I used to receive was stopped due to some employee’s mistake,” she explains. “We used to argue a lot. He slapped me many times. When it was all over, I felt very down. Yet, I had to do something with my life”, she says.Nesma, now living with her mother, in Dayrout El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate, started with a grocery store; however, it did not work out well. “It was not lucrative enough. Moreover, when my mother got sick, I had to leave everything for her,” she says. “But how can we live with my mother’s four-hundred EGP pension?” At that time, the project facilitators were reaching out to local communities in the targeted villages of both Assiut and Beni Suef. When the facilitator reached out to her, Nesma did not have income at all. “I like sewing a lot. Since I was a little girl, I remember that I loved watching my aunt sewing. I even learnt it at school but it was not enough. I dreamt to have my own income. I did not want to be a burden on my brother anymore. I want to generate my own income just like he does”, she underlines. Marwa Hussein, Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Director says, “We believe that development of Upper Egypt is highly intertwined with women empowerment. For this reason, CARE, Egypt works on promoting income-generating activities to create self-sustained businesses for women. Women in
10Once married ten years ago, Nesma was a housewife. After a three-month marriage, Nesma got divorced. Since that time, she did not have anyone to support her financially. Her father passed away. Her brother helps but he still needs to meet the needs of his children. “Even the EGP 300 divorced pension I used to receive was stopped due to some employee’s mistake,” she explains. “We used to argue a lot. He slapped me many times. When it was all over, I felt very down. Yet, I had to do something with my life”, she says.Nesma, now living with her mother, in Dayrout El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate, started with a grocery store; however, it did not work out well. “It was not lucrative enough. Moreover, when my mother got sick, I had to leave everything for her,” she says. “But how can we live with my mother’s four-hundred EGP pension?” At that time, the project facilitators were reaching out to local communities in the targeted villages of both Assiut and Beni Suef. When the facilitator reached out to her, Nesma did not have income at all. “I like sewing a lot. Since I was a little girl, I remember that I loved watching my aunt sewing. I even learnt it at school but it was not enough. I dreamt to have my own income. I did not want to be a burden on my brother anymore. I want to generate my own income just like he does”, she underlines. Marwa Hussein, Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Director says, “We believe that development of Upper Egypt is highly intertwined with women empowerment. For this reason, CARE, Egypt works on promoting income-generating activities to create self-sustained businesses for women. Women in rural areas still are not actively participating in economic activities. Lately, with CARE efforts, women are more engaged in income-generating activities which has led to better positioning for women in household decision-making and better livelihoods for their families.”The association provided training to accepted applicants. Nesma received a training on sewing before handing her a sewing machine. “I started with sewing two bed sheets. I paid EGP 200 for the fabrics and the association gave me the sewing machine worth of EGP 1000”, she says. “I sold the bed sheets, then made more and more. I started selling to my sister and neighbors. One of my neighbors took me to the school where she works to sell my products to her colleagues.” Since then, Nesma expanded the network of her clients and went to several exhibitions to display her products. “I can earn up to EGP 1000 per month. I am now more experienced when it comes to buying fabrics and bargaining with traders”, she adds. “I dream of expanding my business, building-up a good reputation around the neighboring villages and maybe start marketing my products online to penetrate new markets”, Nesma says.

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Hind

From the womb of pain hope must be born, and hope was all what she owns.

Styling her relatives and close friends was not only her passion, but her mean for leading a decent life, along with her husband, the “C virus” victim, whose salary is almost fully spent on treatment, and their three children too.

“Hind”, the resident of Manshyet-Abduallah in Minya City, decided to make use of her talent in order to increase her family’s income, which doesn’t exceed 900 pounds, and acquire better living standards.

“It all started when I decided to open a small hair-dressing salon at home for my relatives and friends who know me well, in order to financially support my family. I used to get 50 pounds a week as profits, which sometimes reached 100 pounds on special occasions such as weddings and feasts.”

As Hind’s income increased, her dreams of expanding her salon and equipping it expanded too.

Lack of money was the only obstacle hindering her from achieving her dream.

Until one day she heard of “The Life Project” for saving and loaning, which was the key to her postponed dream.

The project which was established by CARE International Organization, depends on arranging residents in groups ranging between 10 and 20, who collect a sum of money they agree on, and loan it to one of them alternately each week.

“When I heard of the project I immediately joined, I had a strong feeling this was the hidden hope I have been searching for, and I was right about it; I formed a group with my friends, where I was able to save an amount of 300 pounds, after a while I was loaned 900 pounds, which made me able to buy a salon’s chair, a hair straightener, and some other accessories for my salon.

My income was doubled and I was able to pay my debt back.

Now I feel I own a real hair salon, one which is visited by the majority of Manshyet-Abduallah, not only my close circle.

“Hind” is one of hundreds of Upper Egyptian women, the unknown warriors, who have super natural powers which they use in fighting their every-day battles; battles of improving their living standards, battles of securing their children’s futures, battles which no one knows about but them, and no one has the courage and strength of facing them as much as they do. All praise goes to the secret heroines.

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Sherine Wasif

“We are simple people who trust in God”. With this simple, devout phrase, Sherine Wasif introduced herself to us.

Sherine, 30 years old, have three kids, the eldest of whom has recently got his commerce diploma.

She married 25 years ago and lives with her husband in Tatalia village in Assiut governorate.

Plenty of Upper Egyptians express their sheer poverty as “simplicity” in place of “poverty”.

They feel rich within themselves, despite their modest conditions, to the extent of poverty sometimes.

However, Sherine wasn’t pitch poor, for she managed to save an amount of about three thousand pounds from selling her poultry and abundant eggs.

Sherine has been saving money for herself, her husband and her children all along.

Her husband is a simple farmer and when the cultivation season is over, he goes to work with any craftsman as an apprentice.

Sherine joined the saving fund in her village early on and she took a large loan from the society amounting to 4,000 Egyptian pounds.

Her eyes sparkled as she told us, with a big smile on her face, “I dreamed of having a buffalo”, She chuckled proudly.

Her husband rejected the idea. “How are we going to feed it?”, he objected.

The husband was very doubtful of his wife’s ability to feed the buffalo, but due to her insistence he finally gave in.

With a big smile on her face, Sherine commented, “Nagging is the weapon of an Egyptian woman” and the secret of her success was her nagging.

Sherine repaid the buffalo loan. Her success was that simple. She took another 1,000 EGP so that her husband rents a very small plot of land to feed the productive buffalo.

Her dreams did not stop at that, but she thought of another project, as the buffalo does not occupy much of her time. Her husband fought with her, rejected the whole idea and asked her to devote her time to her kids and taking care of them.

“Have I neglected any of my duties?”. Sherine did not neglect her children, but her husband opposed the idea just for the sake of opposition.

Sherine did not give in to her husband’s refusal and she cooperated with a lady neighbor of her who was also a member of the saving fund.

They both took a 5,000 EGP loan to work in garments trading.

Her trade grew, which made her in-laws who lived with her in the same house grow jealous.

Her sister in law (wife of her husband’s brother) flooded the house so that Sherine’s visitors could not buy clothes from her.

She did this on purpose, telling her “whether you like it or not”. It did not stop at that, but her husband’s elder brother hit her and her son, telling her “Are you going to act the lady here?”.

Her brother-in-law told her that when he started to sense her success and the improvement of her financial and living conditions; yet, she did not give up and this did not stop her from defending herself, proceeding with her projects and pursuing her dreams.

When her fights with her in-laws continued, her husband sided with her and supported her.

The house was divided between the brothers and the lot of Sherine and her husband was 3 rooms; a room for the buffalo, another for the garments and the third for them to live in. Despite the family of five being crammed in one room, this decision of distributing the house made Sherine happy and feel independent.

Sherine succeeded in her projects. “I have good manners and my prices are good, Whatever the village women ask for I get them”.

By that Sherine summarized the secret of her success in the garment trading project.

When she took us by the hand to show us her buffalo, there was a strange intimacy between her and the buffalo.

She patted it so tenderly and lovingly, calling it her “Lucky charm”. She asked us to take a souvenir photo of her and the buffalo.

Sherine feels a lot of contentment, pride and happiness due to her success in her project, “I have learned a lot. I used to be too shy to talk to anybody.

I’ve changed a great deal”, Sherine also advised us that it was not only her who changed, but her husband changed too, for he used to fight with her and try with all his might to stop her from trading in garments, “You don’t need such a job”, he constantly repeated.

His position changed when he saw how she repaid her debts without seeking his support; he felt then that she knows what she’s doing. He gives her support when she has too many clients. He prepares lunch for her and their children to give her time to look after her trade.

Sherine adjusted her cheerful, flowery headscarf on her head and proudly said, “I used to feel helpless, but now I’ve learned how to be strong.

In the future, my children will follow in my footsteps”, She chuckled, bent a little backwards and continued, “my eldest son is embarrassed because my clientele are all women”.

Sherine concluded, “I will put shelves and expand my garment project”. It was clear to us that for her dreams the sky is the limit.

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Khadra Mostafa selling homemade soap for her neighbors

What could EGP100/ a day do for a family of seven members? Khadra Mostafa, a married woman living with her husband and five children in Dayrout El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate. The oldest girl is 16 years old is getting married soon, and the youngest is a 5-year-old boy. Large families tied with small income are a main feature of local communities. Khadra’s family speaks for the status quo of thousands of poor families in Upper Egypt. Her husband, Sherif works as a baker. He has been moving from one working place to another. Khadra and Sherif used to fight all the time about money. This has quickly turned into violent discussions. Endless discussions triggered silence. Khadra in dire need for money has stopped asking her husband for money not even for her diabetes medication. She ended up going into a coma. The family remained with zero income for long time.Amal Bokra/ Hope for Tomorrow association made an announcement about the EU sub-grants. Khadra submitted an application. She has always loved soap trading. Before getting married, she used to sell and buy ready-made soap. But she could not make soap at home. “I did not know how to make it. No one taught me”, she explains. First, her husband refused the home-based business. He could not stand the idea of people constantly visiting the house day and night. Things changed overnight! One day, her husband left his job for over a month. “Suddenly, he stopped pouring his anger on me: he realized that I can make money on my own. We don’t argue about expenses anymore”, she said.
Zaynahom, head of Amal Bokra association explains that the grant covers the largest portion of the capital needed for the business while the applicant pays the rest to ensure her seriousness about launching the business. In addition to the grant, Khadra received a 3-day training at the association premises to gain the necessary skills for soap making. At the beginning, it was not easy: “I spoiled two mixes and kept crying all day. At the end, I was able to fix them. They were all sold out”, she explains. “Today, I gain EGP 800/ month. I pay the house rent. I spend the rest on food and education of my children and save some money for my daughter’s wedding”, Khadra adds.This small business has just unleashed her mind to think about bigger dreams. She is now dreaming of expanding her business and buying a new house. “What would happen to my children if I die? I do not want to leave them on the street. We need to have our own house”, she highlights. Howaida Nagy, Project Manager at CARE explains: “CARE is keen on providing women participants with capacity-building trainings as we will not contemplate with providing money to participants. Our goal is to offer sustainable interventions to the target groups that would have impactful sights on their livelihoods for years to come.”