By Yolanda Davila, IFRC livelihoods delegate in Syria
The dictionary definition of livelihoods is “the means of securing the necessities of life” – which is a good way of putting it. This work involves identifying capabilities, assets and activities for generating income, but it’s about more than money. It’s about independence and dignity. In short, I’m working to support vulnerable Syrians affected by the conflict to get back on their feet.
I’ve been in Syria since November 2015 and together with my Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) colleagues we’re doing a variety of programmes – from carpet weaving to sheep distribution to supporting small businesses.
For example one of the SARC centres ran training in hair and beauty skills. The centre is in an area where there are many displaced people, including female-headed-households, so this is one way to help women get skills they need to find work. Two women from the course have gone on to open their own beauty salon in the front room of a rented apartment. We helped supply the things they needed, like chairs, a generator, hair-styling equipment. Now they are ready to move to a new premises and keep growing their business.
Agriculture in Syria has been affected by the crisis, so supporting people in rural areas to increase or restart farming by distributing seeds, fertilizers and livestock is important. In rural Homs and Lattakia, we distributed pregnant sheep to 500 families, all of whom were returnees. They needed support to restart their farms. By giving two pregnant sheep, vaccines, and a supply of feed we could help them rebuild their flocks. In livelihoods terms, this helps reduce their vulnerability and improve their standard of living – but really it was the reaction when the sheep arrived that really showed what a difference this project makes. Some people were even kissing their sheep. When you return to your home and find destruction, this very tangible form of help means you are on the way to getting your life back.
I’ve worked in many places in the last 12 years, from Bolivia to Jordan to Viet Nam. In every place, we work with communities, understand what people need, what they used to do before, and assess where it is better for people to return to their previous work or if diversifying livelihoods activities is more appropriate. A participatory approach is key, and I have learned so much from the people I’ve worked with.
For me, what drives me is to try to make a small change in this big crisis. To see the change in people when they can return to their work, when they don’t need to rely on food parcels, that gives my work sense in the midst of everything else.
Yolanda Davila, is the IFRC’s livelihoods delegate for Syria. She supports Syrian Arab Red Crescent to manage their livelihood programme that is supported by IFRC, ICRC and other Movement partners.
Featured photo: Ibrahim Malla / IFRC