Shiekha is a traditional housewife who always regretted having to leave her education too early. She used to take care of her kids, do all the house chores and sometimes helped in selling groceries in the family’s convenient store. With her children now attending university and rising education costs, Sheikha felt that she had to contribute to the household expenses. In November 2018, Sheikha attended a Savings and Loan Groups (SLG) session facilitated by the Jordan River Foundation (JRF) where she learned about SLG operations and how they can assist women to build up their savings. She quickly solidified herself as a community leader as she realized the potential of SLGs as an effective method of saving money and funding entrepreneurial activities.
Shortly after her training sessions, she volunteered as a group leader and helped establish 18 SLGs consisting of 30-33 members each with the help of her neighbours and friends. In each of these groups, Sheikha helped facilitate training for all members on SLG operations and best practices and established herself as a trustworthy voice in the community. When members began starting their own businesses, they consulted Sheikha for advice and guidance. Sheikha’s community support has even helped encourage women to attend meetings by themselves rather than being accompanied by a male family member. Most importantly, Sheikha wants all women in Jordan to realize the important role they play in all communities and feels emboldened to apply her enthusiasm in a way that uplifts the women in her community.
Sheikha was asked to reflect on some personal experiences with helping women in her community. “When forming one of the groups and beginning the initial training on savings and establishing small businesses, one of the women, Shireen Matalqa, approached me and told me that although she was great at baking cookies and cake, she had no idea how to properly market them.” Sheikha mentored her on financial literacy and the basics of business management, and shortly afterwards she took a loan from the group to start her business. As a result of Sheikha’s mentorship, this woman’s business was successful and continues to prosper. She is ever thankful for Sheikha’s help in making her a successful business owner and a more confident person.
Another beneficiary of Sheikha’s mentorship is Toqa Bani Younes, a university student who suffers from kidney failure. “She wanted to help her parents by covering part of her health expenses. I encouraged her to take a loan from the savings fund to purchase make-up, cosmetics and accessories to sell them to her university colleagues.” This allowed her to earn money which helps alleviate some financial burden off her family.
Sheikha has also encountered success running her own small business. Starting with 70 JOD (CAD $130) as a loan from her local SLG, she bought organic thyme and produced 20kg of za’atar, a spice mixture that includes the herb along with toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, often salt, as well as other spices. From this initial investment, she earned a net income of 30 JOD (CAD $56). She also makes a variety of ready-to-cook meals and dried herbs. Currently, her monthly net income is 250 JOD (CAD $465). At “Treasures of the Jordan Valley” event organized by the project in December 2019, she earned 250 JOD (CAD $465) and credits her experience at the bazaar with opening up new horizons and causing her to think more seriously about her business.
During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan instituted a strict lockdown and Sheikha was able to use her business acumen to pivot her business to meet customer demand.
“I used to sell my organic supplies in my family convenient store. Due to the lockdown, all stores on the streets closed, so definitely my income was hugely affected. I took some of my organic supplies including flour and started to sell from my home. After a while, I ran out of supplies and my usual providers could not send me any goods, except for the flour provider. I thought about what was possible to do in such a situation. I noticed that all bakeries opened from 10 am until 5 pm, and people needed bread during other times”, she said.
She ordered 200 kilos of flour and started to bake and sell from home. During that time, she could collect JoD500 (CAD $926) net income per month. She noticed that the number of needy people significantly increased so sometimes she distributed some essential supplies for free. After the lockdown, bakeries are back to their normal working hours, so there is no more demand on her baked bread. However, she is sure that she can find an opportunity in any hard conditions that she will face. Even her family members have learned from her experience about how to be strong and independent. Sheikha has returned to selling her products and has begun showcasing them in her family’s convenience store. She hopes to one day be featured in one of the country’s major supermarkets.