Small Enterprise Project for the Differently-Abled
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch
The country of Syria, located in Southwest Asia, was a French mandate before it gained independence in 1946. Its history can be traced back, however, to the fourth millennium B.C. Damascus, the capital of Syria, houses the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, which represents not only Syrian Greek Orthodox Christians (who make up 50-55 percent of Syria’s Christian population), but also those in the republic of Lebanon, the Arabian Peninsula, parts of Turkey, and communities in North and Latin America, Australia, and Europe.
In Syria, as in many countries, differently-abled people are prevented from enjoying basic rights and privileges. There is little government support for people with disabilities and some differently-abled people are looked down upon and shunned, even within their own families. Many of these individuals are unable to find jobs and, therefore, cannot support themselves.
Churches have tried in many ways to address the needs of Syria’s differently-abled population by establishing various fellowships and associations to take care of those who have been marginalized. Most of these programs must be run by volunteers, however, and still face many challenges.
The Orthodox Youth Movement has taken the initiative to address these challenges, and has established a special group for speech and hearing-impaired young adults. There are now three different groups sharing youth activities and spiritual education classes through the use of sign language. At the suggestion of many institutions throughout the entire Middle East who work with differently-abled people, the Greek Orthodox Church in Syria held a training program in June 2008 with the goal of enabling hearing and speech-impaired people to begin small enterprises for income generation. The training was aimed at young men and women living in Damascus, regardless of their faith affiliation.
The objectives of the training were
- To develop the skills of differently-abled individuals for small enterprise.
- To enable trainees to plan and implement their future small businesses.
- To provide practical information and case study analysis on small enterprise.
- To provide vital examples of successful small projects.
- To enable differently-abled individuals to enjoy the same rights as other people.
- To give a sign of hope for planning a better future, being able to live with dignity and to provide a more secure future, especially for young women.
The Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development organized the training for June 8-11, 2008, at Holy Cross Halls in Damascus. Thirty-six participants from Damascus attended the training. Most of the participants work in different vocational areas such as hairstyling, baking, computer maintenance, shoemaker, dressmaker and some participants are studying in a school for speech and hearing-impaired in Damascus. Most participants were between the ages of 15 and 25. Three individuals between 35 and 44 years of age also participated in the training.
The training began with an orientation meeting explaining the objectives of the training and ice breakers to let participants to get to know each other. Four translators were available to facilitate communication between the trainer and trainees. The training sessions focused on the following topics:
- Concept of the small enterprise project.
- Steps of starting a small business.
- Concepts of marketing.
- Concept of team work.
- Concept of promotion.
- Project framework.
- Assessment of market needs.
- How to measure risk upon starting a small business.
Participants shared with each other their practical experience and challenges. Most of them had left school long ago due to not having a professional school capable of helping develop their skills. Most participants entered the work field after leaving their schools. They are earning very low wages because they have not had the chance to develop their skills and are often exploited by their employers. This training helped participants to discover their hidden skills and build the confidence to take the initiative and make a change in their lives.
During the training sessions, participants were asked to write a small enterprise project each according to his/her budget and profession. Participants presented their projects during open sessions and their work was evaluated according to the information they received in the course. In the last day of the course, trainees received certificates from the Syrian European Business Centre (SEBC). Words cannot reflect the joy of beneficiaries upon receiving a certificate for the first time in their life. This course enabled participants to overcome their challenges and being motivated to develop themselves to the best.
In addition to the training sessions, activities such as visiting the old city and the big bazaar were organized. Participants were able to develop new friendships through organized activities and sharing meals during the training.
This project provided an example for the wider church community and society of how differently-abled individuals can be empowered to participate fully in the community, including the economic life of the community. The national Syrian TV station and a private satellite TV station reported on the activities of this training which helps build public awareness on different issues related to marginalized people in Syrian society.