Breaking the Ice: Sewing Courses Open Up a New World of Opportunities for Youth with Disabilities

Geneva, 26 August 2019 - Speech and hearing impairments often act as a barrier, separating those affected from the outside world. This was the case for 18-year-old Sameer and his 20-year-old sister Randa. Taking part in the International Catholic Migration Commission's livelihoods program in Jordan helped them break the barrier and explore the world around them.

After attending ICMC’s sewing courses, 18-year-old Sameer has become more enthusiastic about experiencing the world around him. ©Amjad Amareen/ICMC Sameer and Randa spent most of their time at home. They did not interact with anyone outside. We used to beg them to join us whenever we gathered at their family's house," says their aunt Um-Mohammad.

Sameer and Randa live with their parents and two sisters in the Governorate of Mafraq. Until the age of 18, they attended a special school for speech and hearing impaired children. However, because of their disability, the siblings had few opportunities to connect with others or to find employment after their schooling.

"Sameer was always absorbed with his mobile phone; he rarely interacted with anyone. Randa did not have any friends either," says their aunt Um-Mohammad.

Then they enrolled in the ICMC's sewing course. The training is accessible to Syrian refugees and Jordanian locals with disabilities. It was created to address needs expressed during outreach visits by parents of youth living with disabilities.

The parents' main concern was a lack of opportunities for their children to become productive members of their community. The program's inclusiveness is a novelty in the area as it goes beyond supplying young people with disabilities with material and medical care, offering them means to become more self-sufficient.

As they attended the course, Sameer and Randa's attitudes began to change. They became more open and started interacting with their peers and family.

"All my feelings of agitation and anxiety about meeting new people vanished during the first days of the course," says Randa. "I met other girls living with the same impairments as me, and we have become close friends. I also made friends with some non-disabled girls.

The course had a similar impact on Sameer, who now goes out regularly with his new friends. "After attending the course, I am more open to the world around me. I have never felt so enthusiastic about leaving the house," he says.

Um-Mohammad says the family is extremely grateful. The training course “saved Sameer’s and Randa's lives from oblivion. Seeing how they have become livelier and more open brings joy to our hearts." And she adds: "The sewing course not only helped them break the ice, but it also equipped them with vital skills which they can use to support the family financially.

Accessing the job market

ICMC's partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has guaranteed the transition of graduates like Suhair into the Jordanian job market thanks to NRC’s Transition to Employment Program. ©Amjad Amareen/ICMC

Twenty-five Syrian refugee and Jordanian students living with disabilities, mainly hearing and speech impairments, were the first group to graduate from the six-week program in 2019. Among them, 18-year-old Suhair, a Jordanian girl who lives in Irbid.

Suhair now works in a sewing factory thanks to a partnership between ICMC and the Norwegian Refugee Council's Transition to Employment program. The program focuses on integrating Syrians and Jordanians into the labor market. It screens employers and job-seekers and provides employment opportunities for beneficiaries through partnerships with the private sector. "Finding a job was a dream for me before taking this course," Suhair says.

Employment is out of reach for the vast majority of Jordanians living with disabilities. The employment rate among people with disabilities in Jordan is of 16%, compared to 36.6% among the overall population. Among women with disabilities, this rate drops to 4.8%.

Similarly to Randa, Suhair kept to herself and had no friends before registering for the course.

"I did not want my daughter to be lonely. I wanted her to have a better life," Suhairs' mother Sumayah says. "I knew in the depths of my heart that the sewing course was the right opportunity for my daughter to experience the world around her, meet new people and make friends. That is why I kept on encouraging her to register."

By completing the course, Suhair has also strengthened her self-confidence and developed her sociability. "I started to take better care of myself. I became more courageous to experience the world around me and make new friends."

ICMC carries out livelihoods activities in the Jordanian governorates of Mafraq and Irbid. The sewing program for youth with disabilities is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

* Names of beneficiaries and of their family members have been changed to protect their privacy.