Mariam Al-Fares, 27 years, an inspiring young woman who overcame poverty and social obstacles to become one of the known entrepreneurs in Ajloun, one of the successful small businesses of “Promoting Local Economic Development Programme in Jordan” which is funded by the European Union, managed by the Ministry of Interior and implemented by UNDP.
With every challenge I experience; there was an opportunity that made me stronger
This is a story of a caring young woman with a simple act and powerful outcome.
I belong to a middle- income family; but I consider myself coming from a poor family; as my father left us when we were kids and got married and didn’t support us financially. My mother took care of us morally & financially.
She used to prepare & produce herbs and spices and sell them to her neighbors; me and my older sister used to help her in the preparations; in a very traditional way, we learnt how to sift, roast, take the seeds and packing the herbs and plants.
My mom passed away, which was a shock to me, she was the only caring person I ever felt safe with; My siblings got married and left me at home to take care of my disabled brother; I found myself by my own in a situation where I have to fight poverty and take good care of my brother. I finished my Tawjihi certificate but couldn’t enroll in a college or university.
I was so down and didn’t know what to do; then I decided to use what we learnt from my mother before she passed away; I started to prepare herbal stuff and leaves for the neighbors the way my mom used to do. This helped to keep me & my brother alive.
One day, a friend of mine rushed in to my house and told me that there is a grant application to support small businesses by the Ministry of Interior and funded by the European Union. She told me “go try, you will lose nothing by trying, I’m sure they will love you”.
I applied to the grant; I was called to do the interview; Thanks God I was able to convince them with my small project idea; I explained spontaneously what I do with the herbs, spices and leaves and told them with passion that I’m dreaming of opening my own herbs store.
After a while; I heard I was accepted and this was a bright door opened in my life.
When I was a child I had big dreams and ambitions, but I was scared that I won’t be able to pursue those dreams because of the poverty I was born into. Poverty was certainly not a choice for myself and not for others but it is a circumstance that needs to be dealt with, and that what I decided to do.
Starting any business from the scratch is not an easy task, I got puzzled at the beginning and didn’t know how to start the first step; I was asked to prepare a business & financial plan which was very hard to me. With the support we got from the responsible teams of this programme; I managed to prepare my plan and I was really thrilled that I was one of the beneficiaries who were granted a financial and technical support.
Now, I have the money and I need to prove to everyone including my family that I can do it, especially that they were against the idea of a woman opening a shop and managing it by her own.
Another obstacle I faced was choosing a place for my shop; all the shops were managed by men and there was no acceptance for women competing them! Therefore, I tried not to rent a shop on the main street; finally, I was lucky to find a small shop in a side street.
Nothing was easy at first; I even thought of giving up; then I look to myself and my disabled brother and decided to pursue my only dream.
I started to learn the basics as I had no previous real experience in managing and administrating businesses. I encountered many difficulties in establishing the shop; being a woman, the merchants deceived me in prices and in quality; the project team, especially local officer, was of great help, she gave me insights and advices to avoid pitfalls during the implementation of my project; for example, they provide me with advices on how to get different price offers, how to select good suppliers and connected me to other grantees who helped me in starting my business. Without them I would be by my own and didn’t know such information on how things really work in the market. I worked by my own on the designs & decoration. I learnt a lot in the preparations period. Now, no one can deceive me in prices and I started to learn everything.
At the beginning I had to stay from 9 am till 10 pm at the shop which caused me troubles with my family, but it was a bit solved as one of my brothers has a barber shop near to my shop; so he started picking me up at night to leave together and keep an eye on me during the day.
A Dream Comes True
With every challenge I experience; there was an opportunity that made me stronger. The most important lesson I’ve learned in life is each one of us is responsible his/her life decisions, good and bad. No matter what my family situation was I had an obligation to be productive member of society.
My shop is well known in the area now and even in other cities; I’m getting calls from Amman the capital to participate in exhibitions and to send a bulk of product! I started producing three herbs only but now I’m working with many other products; herbs, leaves & nuts. I bought two new roasting and blending machines. The sales are increasing; I have savings now, I’m thinking of expanding my shop and do some decorations for home.
I’m so happy, I feel that another Mariam is born... thank you European Union for giving me this chance.