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Written by Forward Magazine   
Friday, 12 November 2010 11:26
From illiteracy to success: Entrepreneurial women in rural Syria change their lives through training and microcredit

Salma is telling her neighbor about the ongoing rural reading campaign; Sabah is preparing for her next order of Italian cheese; and Sondos is wondering how the international financial crisis will affect her business. What do Salma, Sabah and Sondos have in common? Where they come from and how far along they’ve come.

They are part of the 46.5% of Syrians living in rural areas, with a culture and needs decidedly distinct from those living in the urban areas. Like most countries, poverty rates in rural Syria are higher than in urban areas, and other socio economic indicators highlight a high growth rate and a young population. On average 6.3 persons live together in a single rural household, and nearly 61% of the total population is under 24 years of age.

 

Salma is a 40 year-old mother of six who left school at the age of thirteen. Like 75% of the rural population, she dropped out of school after completing primary school, and has dedicated her life to her family. Over time, Salma’s ability to read and write became limited to a bare minimum. Illiteracy rates in rural areas reach up to 17.6%, particularly high among women who constitute 72% of illiterate people. Gender disparities are also notable in high school and college, where enrolment rates among men are 20% higher than among women.

 

However, Salma’s determination motivated her to be one of many in her community to take literacy courses and participate in several training programs on first aid, reproductive health and other such topics. She was elected a member of the Tel Mardikh Village Development Committee, and has since then become an active player in the development of her community.

While the labour force participation rate in rural Syria is estimated at 46%, unemployment remains a concern reaching 10%, a figure higher than the national average, and particularly affecting young people (under the age of 34) and women.

 

Like Salma, Sabah from Ain al-Tineh did not complete her education and had a small dairy business to help her family. However, after being trained in cheese production, accounting and basic managerial skills, she improved and expanded her product variety. Her efforts were recognized, as demand for her products grew from both local and international customers. Sabah is among 60 women entrepreneurs in the Ain al-Tineh area who have successfully established their own micro and small enterprises (MSEs) to be active members of their communities and to contribute to improving their living conditions.

 

Sondos who had also benefited from basic management training and took up a loan to start her project, succeeded in setting up her own business, “al-Mazen Supermarket” in her village Zanboura. However, she is now concerned about the impact of the global economic downturn on her business. Until recently, Sondos had focused her attention to her immediate and surrounding environment, which led her to setting up the supermarket to support her needs and those of her community. In time, and by communicating with her friends and neighbors, reading the local newspapers and watching television, Sondos grew increasingly aware of the impact external factors could have on her business. She began assessing how the increasing price of fuel affected the number of trips she took in a month to stock up on products. She also assessed which products were more in demand as purchasing power may be affected by the economic downturn. This is not only an issue for Sondos but to all those who wish to start their projects or ensure the sustainability of their already existing businesses.

 

While Salma, Sabah and Sondos have different circumstances, they have nonetheless benefited from the efforts placed on promoting literacy and supporting entrepreneurship initiatives in their communities. Addressing illiteracy and educational attainment not only encourages a reading culture but also improves entrepreneurial prospects and chances for success. This creates a conducive environment for the youths who represent the majority of the society, engaging them in development and entrepreneurial initiatives and empowering them to become essential drivers in their communities.


'The figures in this article are all according to the Statistical Abstract 2008 by the Central Bureau of Statistics, except for the figure indicating labour force participation, which is in accordance with the Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2006/2007, Central Bureau of Statistics.'

This article is brought in collaboration with Firdos, a division of the Syria Trust for Development

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 June 2011 18:28
 

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