Refugee families: A labour of love

Sana pictured in her one-room home in Jordan

36-year-old Sana, a refugee living in Jordan, makes the scenic drive up winding mountain roads to nearby olive groves on a daily basis. But she’s not appreciating the view. Sana is hidden behind blacked out windows in a crammed mini bus, and the sun hasn’t even risen yet.

Sana is one of 15 (mainly Syrian) refugees on their way to work picking olives in northern Jordan. “I have to take a private bus to the farm and they deduct 1 Jordanian dollar (US $1.50) for the ride,” explains Sana.

The bus driver hides us on the bus so that the police don’t see us.

Refugees do not have the right to work in the country so those like Sana risk prosecution from the police, and even the threat of deportation back to Syria if they are caught. But it is often a necessary risk as it is the only way single mothers like Sana and other refugee families can afford to rent homes and provide for their families.

Sana and two of her sons
Sana and two of her sons

Despite working five days a week on the farms, what she earns is often not enough. Sana says:

I work like a slave… when I get back I sleep like the dead.

She adds: “I get 6.5 JOD (about US $9) per day, but the work stops when it’s raining and I only get 2-3 JOD (US $3-4) for half a day.”

This salary is for 10 hours of back-breaking labour, where her worth is measured in sacks of olives – and what she and her eight children can afford to eat that day is based on the speed and agility of her fingers and the strength of her back. Sana says:

We only eat twice a day. My children don’t know the taste of different foods, or of good food. Sometimes we have chicken, but only when we have coupons, and I can’t remember the last time we had meat.

Sana has also received support from CARE with cash assistance totalling US $265 that helped her pay rent, buy a heater and send her son back to school. The family lives together in one small room which serves as a kitchen, dining room, sitting room and bedroom. They have a small courtyard and outdoor toilet.

Sometimes I take my [11-year-old] son to work with me just to keep him out of trouble, otherwise he can get into fights on the street.

Sana’s eldest daughter, 15-year-old Fedaa, has also had to drop out of school in order to take care of her siblings and the home while Sana works, and on occasion she also helps out on the farms – usually leaving before her mother to come back and complete her chores at home. Sana is illiterate so Fedaa, who reached seventh grade back in Syria, is also homework checker and teacher for her brothers and sisters.

Sana and her daughter Fedaa
Sana and her eldest daughter Fedaa

Sana is acutely aware of the importance of education, especially now she is the sole breadwinner for the family. With CARE’s help she was referred to an organisation teaching adult literacy. “I want to be able to recognise words,” she says, “right now I can’t help my children with their homework and I can’t get any better work. Now I am starting to know numbers and the alphabet.”

I am very thankful for how CARE deals with us... just to come to the CARE centre and see people smile at us is enough – it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

Thanks to CARE’s conditional cash for education programme, Sana’s 13-year-old son Qusai has been supported to go back to school, but Fedaa has too many responsibilities around the home to be able to go back to study.

As part of her daily routine, Sana wakes up every morning at 4am to pray:

I pray to go back to Syria and to protect me and my children from danger and for better conditions for my children here in Jordan.

By Lucy Beck, CARE’s emergency response specialist – media and communications.

Read more about why Syrian refugees in Jordan want to be able to work to support their families

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.