From refugee to entrepreneur: How a UNESCO scholarship helped a Syrian in Jordan
Saif serving coffee at his thriving “Luminus” café
Saif Al-Sharaa’s journey started when he and his wife sought refuge in Jordan in 2013. The couple rented a modest apartment from a friend in Irbid and within three days, Saif found work in a local café.
Saif began to explore avenues to continue his education in Jordan. In the Syrian Arab Republic, Saif had successfully completed his Tawjihi (secondary school certificate) but had not pursued any further studies. He heard about some scholarships being offered to Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanian youth.
In support of the Government of Jordan’s Response Plan for the Syria Crisis, the UNESCO Amman Office, with generous funding from the Government of the Republic of Korea, and in cooperation with Luminus Technical University College, is implementing the “Provision of TVET for vulnerable Jordanian and Syrian Refugee Youth” project.
Through the project, UNESCO supports youth to receive quality training programmes as a way of creating employment. The project is fully aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in particular, Sustainable Development Goal 4 which focuses on ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning.
Saif applied to the BTEC level 3-qualification at LUMINUS Technical University College in civil engineering programme and began his studies in 2015, earning his diploma the following year.
“During the day, I would work in the café whenever I was not at school, and in the evenings I would study. After receiving the civil engineering diploma, I became interested in the business management programme. I applied for this scholarship and was accepted”.
The café where Saif had been employed went-up for sale. Saif saw a chance to achieve his dream; together with his brother, they approached the owner of the café and collected all the money that they had saved. The owner accepted their offer and the brothers set about making the place their own.
“We undertook a big renovation in an effort to make the café a more open and friendly place. In honour of the place where I have been studying, we decided to re-name the café ‘Luminus’”.
Saif added that some members of the community had a difficult time accepting that the café had been sold to Syrians and voiced their resentment. “We had to overcome this attitude and we lost some of the old customers. In the process though, we gained new clientele. Previously, the café was frequented mainly by men and now, women feel comfortable coming and enjoying the space as well”.
It was a period of transition and adjustment, but now the café is thriving. “My wife has been such a support to me. It is almost like she does the marketing for the café, referring her friends who then tell other people about it. We have started a loyalty program as well, offering discounts to returning customers”. Saif is currently supporting his wife as she begins her university studies.
While Saif and his family are now members of their new community, he has fond memories of Syria. “Everyone who is forced to leave their home, dreams of returning someday. If I someday did go back to Syria, I would open the same sort of café there”.
Saif’s scholarship is one of the 250 scholarships offered to vulnerable Jordanians and Syrian refugees under this project, supporting youth access to meaningful, accredited post-basic education. Many of the students enrolled in the BTEC programmes being offered have not succeeded at passing the Tawjihi, which is not a requirement for admission.
During his studies, Saif benefited from the entrepreneurial skills portion of the training program, making use of these skills in his current work. He feels grateful for the employability skills he learned during his Korean-funded programme and highlights that he feels more confident about managing profits and mitigating losses. He also feels that he has learned a lot about leadership, a skill that is sure to strengthen his resilience and ensure his continued success.
Photos by Saif Al-Sharaa