Queues of people, young and old, waiting for food aid have become a common sight in Idleb. The conflict has led to the systematic destruction of Idleb’s infrastructure and high rates of unemployment.
This means many families have fallen victim to poverty and accepting aid has become the norm, which some fear has led to a culture of dependency amongst the local youth.
The Cash for Work project, run by the People in Need organisation, hopes to combat the wider social impact of long-term joblessness.
“Unemployment affects not only the individual but also society,” project deputy director Adel Badran told Damascus Bureau. “When a breadwinner fails to find a job, he searches for a solution. This could be migration, which in time leads to the disintegration of whole families.
“Unemployment also leads to an increase in crime, theft and begging. Those who refuse to resort to these measures live in poverty which leads to malnutrition, poor health, the spread of disease and death,” the 30-year-old concluded.
Launched in April 2015, the project receives monthly funding of 15 million Syrian pounds and links job creation with public works projects.
“Work helps people become independent and protects them against poverty and hunger,” project director Ahmad al-Khatib said.
“Cash for Work pays people daily wages in return for the jobs they do, which are mostly in the public service sector, such as road works, water network restoration, street cleaning and garbage collection,” the 37-year-old continued.
So far the project has found jobs for more than 750 people from 37 villages in Idleb’s countryside. It hopes to build its workforce to 2,500 people during 2016.
One beneficiary, Abu Omar, told Damascus Bureau that his situation had been so bad that he had been considering seeking refuge in a neighboring country.
“I am the only breadwinner for a family of seven and our financial condition was dire due to the price hikes in basic commodities,” the 29-year-old said.
“When I heard of the project I joined its workforce along with my friends. The jobs I have been given have allowed me to secure a steady income and put food on the table for my children. Although I work hard, I now feel full of energy, hope and optimism.”
The projects not only provide employment but also create knock-on benefits for the region.
Abu Samer is a taxi driver in the village of Al-Dana and supplements his income with a job rebuilding roads and water networks. The 40-year-old told Damascus Bureau how one job affected the other.
“The project has taken on mending road potholes caused by the fierce bombardment of Idleb. Trucks transporting heavy goods were forced to avoid these roads and use smaller ones that were not designed to bear such heavy weights, therefore ruining them too.
“The poor conditions of the road let to many traffic accidents. But know we are filling up the potholes and levelling out the roads, they are becoming a pleasure to drive on.”
The project was also repairing damaged plumbing networks, Abu Samer continued, bringing water back to most households. Previously, people had had to buy their supplies at high costs.
Another woman, Umm Ali, described the difference the project was making to local services.
“Most government employees, including garbage collectors, were not receiving their wages so they quit their jobs. The rubbish began to pile up on the streets. The stench was terrible, it attracted insects, and contagious diseases began to spread,” the 45-year-old said.
“The project helped rid us of a major problem and a massive worry. Our streets are now clean as the workforce continues to collect garbage and dump it far away from residential areas.”
The head of the city of Saramda’s local council, Mohammed Qizza, said the project was helping reduce poverty levels.
“The project will help workers earn enough money to provide for their families. By doing so, it will help aid agencies which are struggling to cope with the number of poverty-stricken families to re-direct their food rations to others in need,” the 38-year-old said.
The project’s greatest benefit, Qizza continued, lay in helping local men provide for their families again, thus restoring their sense of self-worth and dignity.
This was true for 30-year-old Salim Ahmad. He was displaced from the village of Benish and now lives in Atmah camp.
“When a barrel bomb landed close to my house, martyring two of my sons, I fled with the rest of my family. The conditions we endured when we first moved to the camp were dire. We had to wait for the distribution of aid that covered only part of our needs,” he continued.
“But I managed to secure a job with the help of the project. It provided me with the distraction I needed to take my mind of my martyred boys. It also provided me with a steady income, saving my family from destitution.”
Sonia al-Ali is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Maarat al-Numan. The 33-year-old holds a BA in Arabic Literature and works as a teacher. She is married with four children.
This article was republished at The Syrian Observer by special agreement with Damascus Bureau.