From where I stand: “With every thread I wove…I was weaving away my sorrows”

At 47, Emm Ali* has experienced immense loss. A Syrian refugee living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan since 2013, she found a sense of purpose as she joined UN Women’s cash-for-work programme and started weaving carpets. The cash-for-work programme is the largest employer of women refugees in the camp.


Emm Ali. Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig
Emm Ali and other refugee women. Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig


Seeing my two sons killed by ISIS before my eyes, I decided to flee our home in Dara’a, Syria with my husband and remaining four children. There were bombs going off everywhere as we tried to escape. We started walking towards Jordan.

We got stuck at the border for a few days, in the middle of dust storms. One of my daughters almost died due to exposure.

At least a thousand times, I felt like giving up and going back to Dara’a. But I kept walking forward, thinking a better life must be waiting for us at the end of the journey.

When I arrived at the camp in Jordan, it was not what I had expected. At the beginning, we had to live in tents. There was limited electricity and water was scarce. Every day was a reminder of the home and life that I had lost. I fell into depression and grieved for my boys.

I knew I had to find the strength to go on, for the sake of my remaining children. I heard about the cash-for-work programme run by UN Women at the camp, and decided to enroll. I started learning how to weave carpets from recycled material. With every thread [that] I wove, I felt like I was weaving away my sorrows. The work shifted the bitterness of loss and gave me a sense of purpose.

Today I teach other refugee women to weave and counsel them. Every day, I look forward to my 11 a.m. lesson. I know the pain they are going through; no one should be left alone to deal with such pain.

I still dream of Dara’a…and in my dreams, I have returned to Syria with my children and we are safe.”

SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Emm Ali*, 47, is a Syrian refugee living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, where UN Women has set up the “Women and Girls Oasis”, a safe space for refugee women and girls. Ali came to the Oasis with severe depression and slowly recovered through counseling and by participating in the cash-for-work programme run by UN Women. With the JOD 179 she earns every month, she is able to provide for her household and buy medicines for her ailing husband. Her work has empowered her to make decisions within her household and given her a sense of purpose, says Emm Ali. During the visit of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the Za'atari refugee camp, his first stop on his trip to the Arab States region, Ali met with him, along with other women in the Oasis to share her experience. Her story relates to the Sustainable Development Goals on promoting decent work and productive employment for all (SDG 8), on facilitating safe migration and mobility of people (SDG 10) and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development (SDG 16).

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.

Read more stories in the “From where I stand...” editorial series.