Refugee Entrepreneurs — Tailoring a New Life in Jordan

30 year-old Shaker Al-Omari only worked as a tailor for 3 months in his native Daraa before the war came to Syria. We talked to him in Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan where he now runs his own tailoring shop named for his home town.

“Art and creativity has always been important to me, and when I was younger I dreamed about becoming a tailor, or even a fashion designer. I worked in my native Syria for 3 months before the war came and we had to leave for Jordan in 2012.” Shaker tells us.

Shaker Al Omari in his tailoring shop “Daraa” in Zaatari Refugee Camp

“Although I left most of my belongings behind, I carried my dream to be a tailor with me, so after a few months in Zaatari, I started looking for a tailoring job, first in the camp market, and then outside the camp. However, the tailoring shops around here only employ about 1–2 tailors per shop and with all of us Syrians here, the labor market is very competitive so I wasn’t able to find anything”.

“One day, I met a representative of the Norwegian Refugee Council who told me about a tailoring course at their Youth Center. I saw an opportunity to improve my skills and registered for the 3-month long course, thanks God. After completing the course, I did not want to end up in the situation as before — jobless and dependent on the camp services — so I decided to take matters in my own hands and start my own shop”.

It is common knowledge that life as an entrepreneur can be challenging, and even more so that life as a refugee is extremely difficult. However, for Shaker, being refugee-entrepreneur is a way to keep his dream alive.

“I always wanted to open my own tailoring shop, and now I have achieved that dream, despite the many difficulties I have faced”, Shaker tells us. “It is definitely more challenging to be an entrepreneur here in the camp than it would have been at home. For example, the constant shortage of resources makes it difficult for me to take orders from customers since I don’t know if I’ll be able to get my hands on the material necessary to deliver on time” he explains. “Moreover, the grid in the camp is unreliable, so I sometimes have to wait idly for hours until the electricity comes back”.

Whenever he is not behind his sawing machine, Shaker uses the camp’s shaky internet connection to look for inspiration online “I watch films to learn difficult designs, and that makes me forget the troubles we have here in the camp for a while”.

Shaker is not only an entrepreneur, but also an employer, having hired two of his fellow graduates from the NRC Youth Center. Now, he is set on growing his business even bigger — “I want to expand and become a wholesale distributor of cloth and supplies for all the tailoring shops in the camp”

The Norwegian Refugee Council is an NGO providing emergency relief services and vocational education to displaced people in over 25 countries around the globe.

Located in north Jordan, close to the border with Syria, Zaatari Refugee Camp is currently home to 79,000 Syrians fleeing the civil war in their home country.

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