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Resilience in rural Syria: Welcoming back tourists with fresh-baked pastries

27 November 2020
© IFAD/Mouhab Alawar

After a decade of conflict, local tourists are slowly starting to return to the pristine mountainsides just a short drive outside Latakia, Syria. Visitors to the village of Zaghreen, in particular, are greeted by the aroma of Issam Mohammad Hamoody’s freshly-baked pastries.

Issam’s story is similar to those of countless other young Syrians living in rural communities.

“About two years after the war started, the costs of living rocketed upwards and left a huge burden on the shoulders of my family. We found ourselves facing a big financial crisis,” she recalls.

Like so many others, she soon began looking for a job – or another way to earn money to make ends meet. Eventually she heard about the IFAD-supported ILDP project, an effort to help rural Syrians start up their own livestock businesses, and she reached out to them to ask for a loan. Issam bought a dairy cow with the 95,000 Syrian Pounds (about US$185) she received and started selling its milk. She also began making dairy products, including yogurt, cheese, labneh (a soft cream cheese made from yogurt) and shanklish (a popular blue cheese common in the region), which she sold at the local market. Issam was able to use the money she earned to support her children and husband, who was in poor health. After a few years, his condition began to deteriorate. He passed away in 2017, leaving Issam to support their children.

“It was very tough times for me to take full responsibility for my family,” she says. “My income was good, but I still struggled to secure a good life for my children”.

As the realization that she now bore full responsibility for her family began to sink in, Issam realized she would need to be more productive. At first, she redoubled her efforts, increasing the amount of dairy goods she sold at the market. But as time wore on, she began to think about ending her dairy operation and trying something different. After years of conflict, a relative stability had returned to her village – along with an increasing number of tourists. At last, her mind was made up. She sold off her cow and its two calves and used the money to establish a bakery.

“Starting a project in the countryside is not easy to do,” says Issam. “Things were difficult in the beginning. But now I am reaping the fruits of my efforts. Many tourists stop by my bakery to taste the delicious pastries I bake in the oven out front.”

Today, Issam is proud to be running a successful bakery – and proud that her children can grow up in a more peaceful place, among plenty of trees and fresh air, in much more safety and security than they could have expected just a few years ago.

Learn more about IFAD’s work in Syria.