From where I stand: “Always rely on yourself”

Maha Aasi Emm Ala’a, a Syrian refugee, came to the UN Women-run women’s centre in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp with severe depression after her husband passed away. She received counseling and found tailoring work through the cash-for-work programme. As refugee crises become more protracted, humanitarian assistance must take into account immediate and long-term needs of women and girls. The women’s centres in Za’atari Refugee Camp are building women’s resilience and empowering them as leaders, workers and entrepreneurs.


Maha Aasi Emm Ala’a, 48, Syrian refugee woman enrolled in the UN Women’s cash-for-work programme as tailor in the ‘Oasis Center for Resilience and Empowerment of Women and Girls’ operated by UN Women in the Za’atari refugee camp. Credits: UN Women/Lauren Rooney
Maha Aasi Emm Ala’a, 48. Photo: UN Women/Lauren Rooney

My husband and I made the trip to Jordan in 2013; we were hoping to find a safe haven from the conflict in Syria. One of our first concern was to buy food and to support our children. However, three years ago my husband died in the camp. I was depressed, lost and overwhelmed. Not only was I dealing with grief, I didn’t know how I would survive… (at my age) I didn’t think I could get a job.

My thoughts turned to my children…I had to provide for them. (That became my motivation.) I enrolled in the UN Women cash-for-work programme, becoming a tailor within the Women’s Oasis (women’s centre).

Not only has the women’s Oasis enabled me to provide for my children, it has become my sanctuary. Surrounded by women of my age who are also overcoming similar situations, we became each other's support system and friends.

Sometimes I am surprised about how far I have come. Now I am teaching other women in the Oasis how to cut and sew.

I hope that my daughters find inspiration in my story, seeing how far I have come as a woman, despite the circumstances. The money that I am earning is going towards my daughters’ university tuition.To think about the future now brings me joy. My daughters can have a prosperous future and as for me… I want to travel and explore different countries one day.

My message to other women is, ‘always rely on yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are old…use your strength and capabilities.’”

SDG 5: Gender equality
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Maha Aasi Emm Ala’a, 48, is a Syrian Refugee living in the Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan, where UN Women has set up the “Oases Centres for Resilience and Empowerment of Women and Girls” that provide services for vulnerable Syrian refugees. The programme has received generous funding from the governments of Australia, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy and Japan, as well as UN Women National Committees. Ala’a’s story relates the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which promotes peace and security, SDG 5 on gender equality and empowerment of women, as well as SDG 8, which aims for full and productive employment and decent work for all.