Amenah's path to nourishing empowerment

April 29, 2024

©UNDP Syria - Abdalmalek Alabdalaa

Amenah AlDawla, often referred to as Amira (Arabic for princess) by her mother, is a 39-year-old widowed mother of three children — two boys and a girl — residing in Rural Damascus. While dealing with the untimely loss of her husband, she embarked on an inspiring journey of entrepreneurship. Amenah's journey began from a dire necessity — the need for gluten-free food.

Celiac disease, commonly known as gluten allergy, is an immune reaction to gluten found in wheat, spelt, rye, and barley. It became a defining challenge within Amenah’s family, eventually contributing to her father’s passing. Though this condition is not widespread, studies suggest that gluten sensitivity affects approximately 0.5–6% of the global population. [1]

Fuelled by necessity and the scarcity of gluten-free foods, particularly bread - a food staple in Syria - Amenah taught herself the intricacies of celiac disease and gluten-free food preparation, crafting healthy alternatives for herself and her family. “There is only one company in Syria that makes gluten-free products, and they are very hard to come by,” said Amenah. “I remember being hungry when I had to work long hours and not being able to just pick up any sandwich or snack” she added.

Tragedy struck when her husband succumbed to a heart attack, casting Amenah into an abyss of grief. It was during this challenging period that she stumbled upon UNDP's initiative on Facebook. “I had to quit my dream job in the UAE and come back to Syria when my husband passed. My entire life was turned upside-down. I suddenly became the sole provider for my three children. Finding the announcement felt like I have found a lifeline of hope to save me from the upheaval in my life” she said.

©UNDP Syria - Abdalmalek Alabdalaa

Despite the adversities she faced, including fleeing her home in Dier EzZor due to the conflict and enduring economic challenges, Amenah persisted. Encouraged and supported by her family and armed with the newfound knowledge and skills acquired from the business and entrepreneurship training, she defied naysayers and economic adversity and ventured ahead to establish a niche business crafting nutritious gluten-free snacks and specialized foods. 

“The training phase was very useful. We learned how to calculate costs and profit margin. I learned a lot about marketing and how to market to different types of customers,” she said. In addition to the training she received, Amenah procured the necessary assets for her business through the project, such as dough maker, food processors, solar energy, and raw materials and ingredients.

Chosen among 700 applicants, Amenah embodies the success story of UNDP's Path to Empowerment project. Funded by the Government of Japan, the programme championed economic empowerment and decent working conditions for women entrepreneurs in Qunitera. Amenah underwent entrepreneurship skills training with 70 other selected women that enabled them to develop their business plans. After which, Amenah submitted her business plan and estimated budget, and she was selected with 50 other women to receive seed funding for their projects.

Amenah's relentless pursuit often demands waking up at four AM, handcrafting each bread loaf, while navigating erratic power supply, water, and raw materials scarcity in her area. Yet, the commitment to provide for her children, coupled with a vision to help others with dietary restrictions, drove her endeavours.

In addition to fulfilling orders from her wide network of friends and family, Amenah partnered with a couple of shop owners, supplying them with her gluten-free, sugar-free, and nutritious products. She aims to expand her venture, not just as a source of livelihood but also as a platform to educate others about gluten-free diets. “In addition to expanding my business, I want to pass on my knowledge to others. My plan is to collaborate with culinary schools to train people on specific dietary needs and other health-focused foods” said Amenah. 

Her story is one of resilience, grit, and a testament to how entrepreneurial spirit and community support can transform challenges into opportunities for growth and empowerment.

“I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have a reason to wake up every morning to provide a better life for my children,” she concluded.


By Asma’ Nashawati, Communications Associate, UNDP Syria

“I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have a reason to wake up every morning to provide a better life for my children” Amenah AlDawla