Empowerment Fund update: Building a sense of purpose

At the beginning of August we launched our Empowerment Fund in the next step of our Aid with Dignity model: building self-sufficiency.

Twelve families were selected to receive financial support of up to €1,000 to help them create a business or social activity.

We’ve just carried out a comprehensive review of the businesses to see how they are getting along. Of the 12 activities we originally supported:

– Five activities are thriving (Dairy, Syrian shop, Restaurant, English teaching, Fragrance manufacture)
– One activity was successful and the loan fully repaid (chicken retailer)
– Three activities failed because of personal difficulties (Bike hire, Clothes designer, Mini-market)
– Three activities did not get started but we are still seeing how we can help (Car wash, Sandwich shop, Travelling sales)

We are pretty pleased with this outcome. So, with a few important changes, we will be continuing with the Empowerment Fund. We have already added another four new activities to this first batch: a mini market, bakery, chicken seller and pie-maker.

All the current projects are now listed here.

We deliberately limited this first cohort to 12 activities so that we could get this important new development right. So how well has it done and what have we learnt?

Building self-sufficiency

No-one wants to survive on charity and nor is it sustainable so this was the most important objective for us. There is some way to go before these activities can lead to self-sufficiency but the foundations are certainly there.

Even at this early stage it has enabled families to pay for small treats previously denied to the kids or cover large costs such as travel to Athens.

One thing we did underestimate was the amount of support that some families needed in the early stages to help with finance and marketing. Amal (English teacher) is offering a fantastic service but needed help to fix a regular timetable. Ousam (bike hire) needed help to fix pricing. Abdul (sandwich shop) needed help with getting started. They all needed some intervention support.

From 12 November, volunteer Paula will be acting as full time Empowerment Fund support worker until January and then trustee Bea will take over.

Improving mental health

We always thought that having an activity would be a benefit but what is becoming clear is that the impact on mental health is probably the most important factor and most important area we need to focus on.

Unable to work and living on the breadline, many people are frustrated and bored with no clear end to their stay. This would take a psychological toll on anyone.

Having a sense of purpose and an activity is just as important as financial gain.

These activities have given people something to do, something to make plans for and something to take pride in. As Yasmin’s husband Ahmed said (restaurant) “Relaxation is a lot sweeter now”. It is fantastic to see families working together. And it must be a huge benefit for children to see their parents working.

That unfortunately has not been the case with everyone. The disruption in the family dynamics and relations with neighbours has led to arguments. We will have a greater responsibility to offer social support as well as business advice. Paula is going to be busy.

Sharing the talents and abilities on the camp

Of course the people on the camp have great talents and that has been great to see.

Mamdooh created four unique, al natural, vegan fragrances from raw materials and with very little support organised the design, branding and packaging. And the fragrances are good. They smell great, last a long time and do not leave any residue on the skin. We will be available for you to buy for Christmas through our website:

Yasmin has created some fantastic food and one look at her Instagram will show you how much the volunteers are enjoying it. Mohammed created some fantastic Syrian cheese and then went on to create a kebab shop that rivals Yasmin’s.

The activities have created stronger links within the camp and it is clear that some links are also being strengthened with other camps. Moayyed and Duraa’s Syrian products are in high demand so they are fast becoming a hub within the camp and for people based in other camps.

Building links and integrating with the Greek community

We always knew that Greek bureaucracy is difficult to navigate and it is time-consuming to get started but we are getting there and have both an accountant and a lawyer supporting us.

To help support these activities we have bought a lot locally. As we know from our own mini-market, spending with local suppliers promotes good relations. To date, the Empowerment Fund has invested €9,950 in the local economy and that is rising.

Creating transferable skills and experience

It’s too early to say how successful this is but we believe that if we can just get people started and support them in the early days of their activity, it will grow. And as it grows they will build skills they can take with them in the next stage of their journey.

What is next?

When we identified self-sufficiency as the main goal of this project, we thought that was about being financially self-sufficient. That is critical but a sense of purpose and an engaging occupation are emerging as the key benefits.

We will continue to support all the activities with the administrative and social support they need. And they will be offered further funding to grow and develop if that is viable. We are still committed to the idea that we need sustainable models.

And we have just created a new process to receive applications from others in the camp. We are particularly interested in supporting the 500+ new arrivals from October who will have ideas and talents that need help to become a reality. That will be launched in the next week.

How can you help?

You can help by supporting us in this project. We have been able to introduce this project to people because we are running our free shop on camp which costs about €5,000 every week.

The Empowerment Fund is a very personal service with many sensitivities but a little money can go a very long way to restoring more dignity.

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