Fadwa’s soap for sale in Eastern Ghouta

Fadwa’s soap for sale in Eastern Ghouta

Mrs. Fadwa lives in one of the villages of Eastern Ghouta. She is 35 years old, and bore seven children, three of whom were killed amid the violence. She is also a widow, her husband passed away six years ago. Nevertheless, her motherly nature and her responsibilities toward her remaining children were stronger than leaving herself for the sadness of the siege, bombing and hunger.


This photo released Feb. 21, 2018 by by the Syrian anti-government activist group Damascus Media Center, shows Syrians living in a shelter seeking protection from airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. Thousands of Syrians huddle in basements and underground shelters across eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, hiding from the horror raining down from Syrian army jets that almost never leave the skies. (Syrian Damascus Media Center via AP)

At the outset of her journey, Fadwa barely knew how to read or write, and always felt powerless when she wanted to teach her children. But she decided she would not let herself or her children remain prisoners of illiteracy, and, she hardly was able to turn her life around, when she joined the Women Now center and set off down the path of personal development. Her labors proved fruitful: she obtained certificates for English, Arabic, and mathematics, and began working as an elementary school teacher in one of the local schools.


Fadwa felt proud when she was finally able to oversee her children’s education and earn enough money to pay for their expenses, but, alas, in Syria, the good times never last for long, and the events of the war began to make life and work increasingly difficult.


Like a knock on the door, the siege of Ghouta heralded the beginning of a new stage in the war of empty stomachs that the Syrian regime had imposed. Nevertheless, and as usual Fadwa did not remain helpless when tasked with meeting her children’s needs, and, despite her lack of capital, she embarked on another project, opening a store inside her home from which she sold mended old clothes. And so she set about looking through the houses of her relatives and of her neighbors for old clothes, as well as taking her children’s old clothes, and selling them all out of a room in her house.


Unfortunately, the profits from selling used clothes proved not enough for Fadwa to keep the business running, and, after going back to the drawing board, she found that producing homemade soap might be a feasible enterprise.


Fadwa came upon the idea when she realized that many of the families of East Ghouta were in need of household items which had become rare as a result of the siege, and so she decided to start making shampoo, hand soap, and dish soap, selling these products out of the same space where she had sold the clothes.


Fadwa went about in Ghouta gathering flowers during the seasons in which they were in bloom, then she boiled and mixed them together with used oils, making hand soap and dish soap. After putting these products on display in her little shop, the proceeds eventually became high enough that she could return to buying and selling used clothes as well.


Today, Fadwa is fighting against the siege like any other inhabitant of Eastern Ghouta, working as a school teacher in the mornings and as a shopkeeper in the afternoons, mending old clothing and producing cleaning products to sell. As the local saying goes, “A small stone could keep the big clay pot from falling” meaning. something small is better than nothing at all.


Rather than stand idly by and waste her time aiming curses at her hunger, Fadwa found that she could resist the siege even if she could not overcome it.


Lama al-Khatib