"Life is like a sea, and we have to be the captains," said Fadia Bayati, 42, an Iraqi, who earned a communications degree in Baghdad before her family was displaced by the war. After 10 years in Jordan, the mother of three sons earns about 350 dinars ($493) a month as a freelance medical researcher and a trainer in programs that teach people how to avoid sexual harassment. She also works as a volunteer liaison to refugee communities.
"I'll help," she assured Badria Qatlish, 40, a newly arrived Syrian refugee who fled with her husband and six children. Back home, soldiers snatched Qatlish's husband, who owned a photography studio, for questioning. They returned him eventually, but it was clear the time had come for them to get out, Qatlish said.
"The children were terrified," she said. "We couldn't live with that."
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Her husband has been unable to find work, so with the help of Atlanta-based CARE, Qatlish has started a business selling Syrian kubbah—a wheat pastry stuffed with ground meat—to neighbors in the small city of Zarqa, another place where refugees have settled. The local schools just began to accept Syrians for enrollment, so she hopes she will be able to expand the business further when she has more child care.
Many of the refugee entrepreneurs are being aided by business-building and microfinance programs, which have ramped up in response to the crisis. According to the Jordanian government, there are eight microfinance institutions operating in the country, with a total portfolio of $173 million. In 2013, they served 270,000 clients. Many of the programs were established to aid Jordanians, but they help refugees, too.