Abu Reza* comes from a family of merchants. Before the outbreak of conflict in Syria, the 50-year-old’s wholesale store near Aleppo, once the country’s largest centre of trade, generated a sizable revenue. This allowed him to expand into retail operations and serve his local community. However, soon after expanding, Abu Reza was forced to leave his family business behind, along with his ancestral home.
“In 2012 a series of violent missile attacks targeted us, forcing the community to flee on foot,” Abu Reza says. “We carried our belongings until we could find a vehicle to transport us to Menbij, 90 kilometers from Aleppo. We stayed there for two years, moving to Yazibag Camp in Northern Aleppo’s Azaz District in 2014.”
Despite the challenges of settling in at the tented ‘last resort’ site, Abu Reza was glad to find some stability and safety in Yazibag Camp. The camp is one of hundreds of makeshift settlements hosting displaced families in Northwest Syria.
Tough Conditions to Operate
Soon after arriving in Yazibag, Abu Reza started making plans to open a new shop where he could supply fresh groceries to the camp’s residents. But conditions were tough.
“The situation in the camp was extremely hard, and I could not properly establish my business until the beginning of 2016,” says Abu Reza.
The modest income available to people in the Yazibag Camp meant that Abu Reza’s shop’s earning opportunity would be small, with low levels of trade making it very difficult to keep the shop running. With losses mounting, Abu Reza was often at the brink of closing his shop but kept up hope.
“As my shop was essentially a large tent with no real protection, the risk of theft was a constant worry. Besides, as the store lacked a roof, my vegetables and fruit were exposed to sunlight in the summer and to rain in the winter. Most of the goods rotted away in a matter of days,” says Abu Reza.
Small and Medium Enterprise Support Programme
Under these circumstances, the cash grant Abu Reza received through GOAL’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Support Programme proved vital.
“The grant motivated me to expand my business and improve it to the best of my ability,” Abu Reza says. “It provided not only a material incentive, but a pillar of support to never give up.”
In 2022, GOAL’s SME Support Programme reached almost 400 food-shop owners in Idleb and Northern Aleppo with technical business-assistance training. 346 of the training participants were provided with cash grants aimed to help strengthen businesses.
Improvements to Serve the Community
Abu Reza’s first move after receiving a grant was to install a metal roof to replace the tent under which he kept his goods.
“As having a roof made proved to be costly, I completed the rehabilitation by borrowing money from some friends of mine to enclose the structure, level off the floor with a layer of cement, and put in a metal door for the shop.”
The improvements to the shop have allowed Abu Reza to not only reach more customers but also to serve his community more reliably.
“The camp lacked markets and shops selling vegetables, meat, and other essential commodities. People used to travel long distances to other markets in order to buy what they needed,” Abu Reza says.
Upskilling for Greater Success
Abu Reza is quick to add that the impact GOAL’s support had on his business went beyond much-needed rehabilitation at his shop. Despite years of experience trading food, he found the technical business training GOAL provided to be equally useful for improving his shop’s day-to-day operations.
“I received training in marketing, learned about the importance of developing a business action plan, and strengthened my skills in record keeping. Neatly organising the goods into an attractive display helped increase the number of customers who came into the shop. Sales and profits grew steadily,” Abu Reza says.
The veteran merchant is happy to observe that life at the camp began to feel less challenging with the growth of local trade. “The trainings and grants provided by GOAL helped to improve the quality of the market in the camp, and the residents have access to the supplies they need at prices they can afford now,” he adds.
* The name of the individual interviewed for this story was changed in order to protect his identity.