For the past year, Bushra has been running a small grocery shop near the tented settlement where she lives. Photo: Darren VaughanFor the past year, Bushra has been running a small grocery shop near the tented settlement where she lives. Photo: Darren VaughanFor the past year, Bushra has been running a small grocery shop near the tented settlement where she lives. Photo: Darren Vaughan

“Before I considered myself a weak person, but to handle this kind of business shows I have strength.” Meet Bushra: A Syrian refugee defying the odds

“Before I considered myself a weak person, but to handle this kind of business shows I have strength.” Meet Bushra: A Syrian refugee defying the odds

There are currently 1.5 million Syrian people living as refugees in Lebanon. Having fled violent atrocities at home, they now face new challenges in an unfamiliar country: families have been torn apart, living conditions are poor, and opportunities for income are scarce. However, one Syrian woman is fighting the odds, running a successful business next to the tented settlement where she lives.   

Meet Bushra*

Bushra has been living in Lebanon for around eight years, five of which have been in a tented settlement with her two children, 11-year-old Nadia* and seven-year-old Abdul*, and her mum Dalia*. Her husband is still in Syria, meaning she is the sole breadwinner for her family.

“It is difficult being a refugee in a new country,” she said. “You are so used to having your whole family around you, and then suddenly things change. You are on your own – with no husband to support you. It’s really hard when you find yourself the one responsible for caring for your family in a new country, living in a tent.”

Bushra has been supporting her family by skilfully running a business for the past year.

Bushra runs a small grocery shop near the tented settlement where she lives. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Bushra runs a small grocery shop near the tented settlement where she lives. Photo: Darren Vaughan

Determination is key

Last year, Bushra received business training and a start-up grant from Concern. She has since been running a grocery shop, selling beans, spices, lentils and sweets, among other things, to both Lebanese and Syrian people.

In the current economic climate, it is not easy to run a successful business in most places – and Lebanon is no different. The country’s economic crisis has increased costs and many have lost their jobs meaning they are buying less, having a knock-on effect on businesses. However, this hasn’t stopped Bushra.

I am happy because it is difficult to have your own business here in Lebanon, and now I run my own shop – I do not work for other people. I am so proud.

Bushra

One of the things Bushra tells us she learnt on the training is that reaching your goal can be tough, and yet with a business-savvy mind-set, she is making it work.

Bushra began small and built up her business over the following months. One problem she faced was fitting out the shop with shelves – not wanting to leave her stock in bags on the floor where they could get damp; she instead wanted to display what she had for sale.

Some of the beans, spices, and lentils on sale in Bushra's shop. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Some of the beans, spices, and lentils on sale in Bushra's shop. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Some of the beans, spices, and lentils on sale in Bushra's shop. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Some of the beans, spices, and lentils on sale in Bushra's shop. Photo: Darren Vaughan

I asked my neighbours to support me – and they donated shelves and tables. I put everything out neatly in rows and used transparent jars so that people could see what was inside.

Bushra

Connections aren’t the only thing that Bushra uses to support her business – she also uses social media to promote her goods.

I make the most of social media to promote what I am selling, and ask people if there is anything they would like me to stock. I also rely on their feedback. If they don’t like a product because of the quality, I will change supplier.

Bushra

More than just financial gains

Having the shop has meant that Bushra can provide for her family, but there is something else worthwhile she has gained - a newfound sense of self.

Bushra with her two children, Nadia and Abdul, and her mum Dalia. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Bushra with her two children, Nadia and Abdul, and her mum Dalia. Photo: Darren Vaughan

The training helped me a lot. Before, I considered myself a weak person, but the training proved that I am strong. To handle this kind of business, in these circumstances, demonstrates that I have strength. I am capable of doing this.

Bushra

Bushra hopes that other women will follow the same path to success that she has had: “Everything I learned from the training was very useful. It would be great to see other women taking part and maybe one day they will have the same opportunity to start their own business.”

Despite her success, Bushra still wishes she could go back to Syria and start a business there, even if it was something small. “I would be confident in being able to expand and improve it.”

Family is the key to success

It was with the help from Concern that Bushra was able to start and grow her shop into what it is today, however, Bushra adds that she couldn’t have done it without the support of her mother.

Bushra and her mum, Dalia. “My mother is everything to me," said Bushra. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Bushra and her mum, Dalia. “My mother is everything to me," said Bushra. Photo: Darren Vaughan

My mother is everything to me. She encourages me to continue and supports me to be stronger, never to stop what I am doing. I couldn’t have done this without her.

Bushra

Refugee Week

This week is Refugee Week. You can get involved by:

  • Following Concern to see inspiring stories of some of the refugees we’re working with
  • Spreading the word on social media using #RefugeeWeek
  • Taking part in an online Refugee Week event, or do one of Refugee Week’s Simple Acts

 

[Names changed for security reasons]

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