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Syrian women unite to start group businesses in Halifax

New Syrian Women’s Forum has launched in HRM

Syrian women in Halifax are ready to take the next step in their journey, by bringing their businesses and cuisine to the municipality.

This is one of many projects being launched through the Syrian Women’s Forum, a fledgling group that began on Nov. 24 when 20 women got together to share ideas.

The Forum will provide financial and emotional support to members to start businesses as a group, as well as offer classes on languages, religion and skills. The women will soon start to meet regularly to brainstorm ideas to help Syrian women in Nova Scotia.

“Women are organizers and planners. If you looked to a successful house, successful children you know there are successful women behind them,” Enas Alzir Almasalmeh, the Forum’s official spokesperson, said in Arabic.

An influx of Syrian refugees started coming to Canada in 2015 due to war. As of 2016 they were 2,190 refugees in Nova Scotia. Many of the women who came have degrees and are eager to work, but they face barriers.

“Syrian women want to work, but unfortunately they can’t because they need experience in Canada. We will provide a place for them where they can build their career in Nova Scotia,” said Forum member Duaa AlMasalmeh in Arabic.

When Duaa came to Nova Scotia through a sponsor in 2016, she said her family received some support, but job-wise she was on her own. Eventually she found a job at a dental clinic.

“I tried to look for a job for so long, but I was not lucky because I did not have Canadian experience,” she said.

Sharing business ideas

While the Forum will look at other business ideas, like a tailor shop and photography studio, the group’s main project at the moment is a group cooking business. It would provide Syrian food and desserts at low prices so families and students can afford it.

Another Forum member, Maisaa AlMasalmeh, said the cooking business would help many women make money. She wants to open her own restaurant one day, but currently can’t afford it.

“We hope the cooking business works; we want to give the best food for people and expand our cuisine in Halifax,” she said in Arabic.

Along with employment support, the Forum will provide group English and Quran classes where women can teach and learn from each other; other skills will be taught like sewing and cooking. It will also take care of new families in Nova Scotia and help them to settle and cover their basic needs, like knowing where to buy groceries and Islamic clothes.

Although there are other women-focused groups in Halifax that Syrian women can attend, they do not feel comfortable discussing their ideas because of language and culture barriers, said Enas.

“We go to learn, but there isn’t the support we need as Syrian female group; we need to support our ambitions and our ideas as Syrian women,” she said.

At their next meeting, members of the Forum will select three representatives who will promote the group, work with the Nova Scotia Syrian Society and manage the Forum’s budget.

The society will provide 10 per cent from its budget to support the Forum.

“It’s our duty to help them and support them,” said Loai Al Rifai, the society’s spokesperson.