The truck lurches from side to side and a cloud of dust chases behind as we dodge (or, more often, hit) potholes and well-worn ruts. Our little convoy finally slows to a stop, and we all spill out and follow four mama sheep into their new pen—first their four lambs, then a gaggle of children, then Adnan. Everyone except for Adnan’s wife Hevin. She slumps near the truck and cries, overcome with happiness and relief.
It’s taken many months to get here. We’ve had many conversations with Hevin and Adnan, refugees from Syria, about their life and ongoing struggles.
We talked through many potential business ideas, trying to find something they’re physically capable of doing and something that’s needed in their refugee camp. There are many businesses in the camp, and little money to spend—it was a puzzle.
Adnan is devoted to his wife and children. He has a real tenderness for them. He is understanding when Hevin isn’t well and always seeking to make her feel better. Hevin puts on a brave face, despite circumstances. If you met her on the dirt road outside her home in the camp, wearing her kind smile, you might not even see the heavy burden she carries.
In English, Adnan’s name means “settler, to stay or abide.” It’s an ironic name for a refugee so far from home. But Adnan lives into his name. Even in this liminal space, he has a way of being “home” for his family. He stays and abides with them, no matter the circumstances.
When we first broached the idea of raising sheep as a business for Adnan and Hevin, we did it with some hesitancy. Livestock aren’t allowed in the camp, so we knew that it would require deft problem-solving skills on the family’s part. Adnan spent much of his life around sheep—he was fourteen or fifteen when he first started raising sheep with his father—so he has the knowledge.
The issue was space.
“Sheep are profitable,” Adnan told us. They provide dairy for milk, yogurt and cheese when they aren’t nursing their lambs. They can be multiplied into a larger flock within a couple years. The family can use their wool for mattress and blanket filling while the flock is still small and sell the excess when the flock grows larger.
Besides, Adnan loves animals! With love and persistence, the couple could grow a small flock into a means of support for their entire family.
Adnan set out to make this possibility a reality.
He walked from the camp to the nearest village and knocked on gates, introducing himself and asking if anyone had extra space he could use to keep his sheep.
Adnan heard a lot of no’s. He is a stranger to the families in this small village. Local residents didn’t know if he was someone they could trust. Relationship is the primary currency here, and Adnan was an outsider to the system.
Still, Adnan persisted. He continued to knock on gates, and knock on more gates, until finally he heard yes!
This day, filled with sheep and dust, joy and tears—this is why we build relationships and businesses the way we do.
When you choose to empower refugees—when you do more than just provide immediate aid or short-term solutions—you create the space to grow relationships, to revisit conversations, and to really listen. You walk with displaced families through all the challenges of starting from scratch—the setbacks and the triumphs. (Adnan and Hevin have experienced their share of both along the way.)
Empowerment isn’t just a transaction. It can’t be measured in dollars or hours alone. Empowerment is what happens when you sit down in the dirt and cry tears of relief with refugees like Hevin as they feel some of her burden lifted.
Your love and persistence added to their love and persistence—is making a way forward.