This is the story of MufidaLees meer
We visit 41 year old Mufida in her sewing workshop, which she has set up with four other women in East Amman, Jordan. As we weave up through the steep hills, it’s hard to imagine what lies behind each door. As we step out of the car across the dusty street and into the workshop it’s like entering a new world. We are hit by a riot of colour and activity and are warmly greeted by the five women. We are ushered in and welcomed with coffee and sweet treats prepared especially for us – this is typical Jordanian hospitality at its best.
As we start talking it is clear that the five women have a mutual respect for one another and they reveal that they have been friends for 13 years. Mufida explains that Sawsan is the leader of the group: “We chose her as our leader as she has a lot of experience. She is also more liberal and able to go out without restrictions from her husband.” Mufida drapes her arm across Sawsan’s shoulders and their heads bow together. It is clear that they have a strong personal friendship and that there is much more to Mufida’s story.
“We lived in misery,” Mufida explains as tears start to roll down her face. As she brushes them away she explains that after she was married at an early age, she did not work with her diploma in secretarial skills, but stayed home to raise four children now aged 9, 10, 11 and 12. The only source of income came from her husband, a tailor. “We were a very normal family, we had the minimum, but it was enough.” Until one day, out of the blue, without any signs or clues, her husband came home and simply said: "I got married.”
Mufida explains that her husband, a secondary school graduate, lacked many skills and she taught him a great deal. “I made a man out of him, I taught him how to talk to customers, how to solve problems at work, how to greet people, I made a human out of him."
“To cut long story short, I left the house and was able to get a court order to take my children with me.” At first she went to live with her sister and her two children. Her sister had cancer and her oldest daughter is diabetic; “the only source of income to feed and support eight mouths was me.” It was a period of great despair. Mufida explains that life became meaningless and she lost confidence in everyone except her sister. The level of agony is something she struggles to describe, simply saying: “I would not wish it even on my enemy.”
Mufida knew she had to find a way to survive and it was at this point that she heard about CARE who were supporting women to set up their own enterprises. At first, Mufida’s business focus was chocolate wrapping, a skill she had developed at home. The business grew and soon people were calling her with orders for weddings, baptisms, graduation ceremonies and more. She explains: “The pay was good, but it was never enough for eight.” Despite this, the business gave her a sense of achievement and some security.
After running the chocolate wrapping business for a few years, another opportunity presented itself. CARE was looking to support women through group enterprises. It was then that the five women decided to come together and pitch their idea to CARE. After several meetings they discovered they had been successful. As soon as the training was completed and the grant was made, the women set to work on establishing their business. They quickly found a workshop space in their neighborhood which was dirty and deserted: “It took us a month working night and day to get the workshop ready. We cleaned, painted and ordered the supplies we would need. We never stopped” explains Mufida.
The workshop is now up and running and each woman has her role, Mufida’s speciality is buttons and collars, whilst Sawsan works on the main sewing machine. Mufida adds without hesitation: “We complete each other.” Only a few weeks into their new enterprise and they are already receiving large orders. Sawsan explains the secret to their success: “When I’m confident about the product, I can be more successful. This is what makes our customers return.”
Mufida and Sawsan, photo: Eva van Barneveld
Mufida now takes care of an elderly woman and lives with her with her four children. This helps with cashflow and also means she doesn’t have to live with the shame of being a divorcee living alone. She continues: “A woman needs to help herself, husband or not. She shouldn’t beg for support, but find another way.”
When Mufida talks about her children her eyes light up and she quickly starts showing us photos on her phone. The children have beautiful cheeky smiles on their faces and are immaculately dressed. She proudly explains that they are top of their classes at school and she hopes they will all complete university. She concludes: “They are the reason I am alive. Life has played its utmost trick of pain on me, but what broke me made me even stronger.”
As we start to leave, the women are talking animatedly about their future business plans to expand their workshop and support more women in their community. They talk fondly about the enjoyment of working together and laugh about growing old together. The solidarity amongst the women is incredible and we leave with a glow in our hearts that Mufida and her friends are most definitely on the up.
Mufida and her kids, photo: CARE