The plumber: an unexpected path


Forced by war to abandon their businesses and their old lives, Syrian women are creating new opportunities for themselves and their families in the countries where they have found refuge. Meet five resilient and ambitious entrepreneurs in Jordan in our new multimedia series, All over again: Syrian entrepreneurs in exile.

Last name: Safa’a *
Age: 42
Of: Deraa, Syria
Live in: Irbid, Jordan
Start: Plumbing company with her friend Hala, * a Syrian refugee whose four brothers were killed in the war
Goals: Help rebuild her family’s future after fleeing Syria, where her husband, a Jordanian citizen, was arrested and released by Syrian authorities, her son was seriously injured during the fighting and the wedding supplies shop that it owned was destroyed.

Safa’a, left, and Hala run their own plumbing business in Irbid, Jordan, started with help from an IRC grant. They also took courses on how to start a business and how to manage finances.

Photo: Timea Fauszt / IRC

Safa’a shares her story:

Many Syrian women have come to Jordan without their husbands. They cannot let a plumber into their home when they are home alone. They have to wait until a male relative is in the house with her.

I heard about a plumbing course for refugees offered by a German organization. I went with my friends; it was kind of a joke at first. I didn’t know anything about plumbing. But we got really interested.

The men were surprised to see us take this course – 25 women graduated. This course gave us basic knowledge so that we can fix things around the house without having to depend on men.

I also used to take recreational classes at the International Rescue Committee women’s center. It was there that I met Hala. I got very good at sewing and decided to open a lingerie business with her. We started doing small business training with IRC – but with every advice I got I kept coming back to the idea of ​​plumbing.

The instructors told us that we had to choose something unique, something that would capture people’s attention. So I chose to go ahead with the plumbing business. I felt like it was a special project and that it does not exist in Jordan. I have the impression that this is a company that has a promising future and that will help us progress.

Two Syrian plumbers visit a client's home in Jordan

Most of Safa’a and Hala’s clients are women who prefer to hire plumbers because their cultural beliefs prevent them from being home alone with a plumber.

Photo: Timea Fauszt / IRC

“No career is shameful”

Many of the women who took the IRC course with us have university degrees with specializations such as business administration, accounting, interior design, English literature, and nursing. I have a degree in fine arts.

We created the plumbing activity with five partners: three Syrians and two Jordanians. The German organization that taught the plumbing course gave us 200 JOD ($ 282) for transportation and a toolkit to get us started.

The only partners who are working at the moment are Hala and me. A partner’s son forbids her to work with us – he doesn’t want her to work in this profession.

There is no such thing as a shameful career. A man can do a woman’s work and vice versa. Men and women complement each other, they are not competitors.

My family is very supportive. My husband motivates me, always working behind the scenes. He designed our logo and promotional material. We learned about marketing and promotion through the IRC course. My husband and I worked together on promotional items: aprons, notebooks and bags with our logo on them. He also helped us renovate the office.

Sometimes when we go to a woman’s house, and find that the repair is straightforward, we don’t charge. We also try to educate the women we visit on how to fix simple things. We also help women over the phone when they call us at night. It builds trust between our customers and us.

We are still not profiting much from this business, especially since we have to divide the profits. We also have many expenses like rent and equipment. The owner usually asks for 100 JOD ($ 141) to rent the office, but he helps us by only asking for 60 JOD ($ 84) per month.

We’re not just doing the plumbing now; we repair water filters, air conditioners and dishwashers. I also hope to start selling tools and parts, like a construction tool shop. We have so many ideas and hope to grow the business.

Syrian plumber arranges parts to fix leak

For Hala, 43, the plumber’s job has become more than just a job. The job helped her cope with depression after losing her four brothers to the war in Syria. “I don’t want to get stuck in the past. I want to move forward in my life. We refugees are now members of the community; there is a chance for us to work and grow with the community.

Photo: Timea Fauszt / IRC

When we first started working as plumbers, we heard a lot of negative comments from people because it is not a female profession. It doesn’t bother us anymore.

There is no such thing as a shameful career. A man can do a woman’s work and vice versa. Men and women complement each other, they are not competitors.

* Names changed for confidentiality reasons

Read more of the series

The beekeeper: honey softens hardships

Learn more

Refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe


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