In the midst of the Syrian crisis, where dreams often take a backseat to survival, one woman from Aqarib village in Hama governorate has chosen to defy the odds. Born with a disability that left her unable to walk, Maisaa refused to be defined by her physical limitations. Instead, she has used her unwavering determination, natural talent, and support from her family to build a successful fashion enterprise that has brought hope and prosperity to her community.
From an early age, Maisaa was captivated by the art of sewing and fashion design. Her mother, an accomplished seamstress, recognized her daughter’s innate gift for drawing and nurtured her talents. Over the years, Maisaa honed her skills, developing an enviable reputation for her exquisite designs and meticulous attention to detail. Word spread, and soon people from far and wide sought her expertise for custom tailoring, clothing repairs, and alterations.
But Maisaa’s ambitions reached beyond mere financial success. In a country where many families struggle to afford clothing for their children, she saw an opportunity to make a difference. Driven by her compassionate spirit, Maisaa began transforming old clothes into fashionable, low-cost outfits for youngsters. Her innovative approach to sustainable children’s clothing was embraced by her village and quickly gained popularity.
“When I came up with an idea of recycling families’ old clothes to become new outfits for their children, my customers thought it was a great idea. Everyone was delighted and welcomed it.”
It was during a village committee meeting in 2022 when she first learned about the Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) ‘Humanitarian Micro-Enterprises’ programme. Intrigued by the prospect of elevating her business and further supporting her community, Maisaa applied for the programme, hopeful that her venture would be chosen for their support.
AKF was deeply impressed by Maisaa’s unwavering spirit and determination. Recognizing the potential of her business and the impact it could have on the community, AKF awarded her a grant to support her venture. This financial assistance allowed Maisaa to purchase professional tools, advanced equipment, a solar energy system to extend her working hours and reduce operating costs and specialized training, which enabled her to expand the range of offerings to meet the ever-growing demand for her sustainable, fashionable designs.
These investments saw Maisaa’s monthly profits rise 185%. The impact on Maisaa and her family’s life has been profound. They are now able to purchase nutritious food and the medication needed to treat Maisaa’s neuropathic pain, previously unattainable due to its high cost.
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, GDP has plummeted from $60.2 billion in 2010 to around $21.5 billion in 2020, unemployment has surged to 50%, and the average price of essential items has increased by 245%, making it extremely challenging for individuals like Maisaa to start or sustain their own businesses.
In the context of these severe economic conditions, AKF’s programme aims to empower Syrian entrepreneurs by providing grants, training, and financial and technical consultations. An added complication is ensuring that all of these activities are compliant with international sanctions on Syria, which prohibit transactions with listed individuals and require assistance to be narrowly targeted on humanitarian coping mechanism. To date, the initiative has supported over 900 individuals, contributing to the resilience of local economies under a lingering humanitarian catastrophe and fostering hope in a region that has faced unimaginable challenges.
Maisaa’s story is a beacon of inspiration and a testament to the power of resilience. As she continues to weave her magic in the world of fashion, Maisaa has become a living example of the indomitable human spirit, proving what can be possible with determination, passion, and a little bit of hope.
Words by Dia Ghourra
Photos by Ali Shaheen