When Wajeeh, 52, and his family of thirteen fled Syria, his main concern was ensuring there was enough food on the table.
“We remained in Zaatari Refugee Camp for 15 days before moving to the host community,” he says. “We left the camp in a terrible financial and psychological state.”
The detrimental financial situation forced Wajeeh to leave three of his eldest children out of school for a short period of time to help provide for the family.
“All my children were school-aged at the time, and I was unable to send any of them to school in the beginning. There were other priorities such as securing food and water.”
“We had to find a source of income to survive in Jordan. Job opportunities for a person my age dwindle. It becomes more difficult to secure work.”
Wajeeh’s family settled in the city of Irbid to the north of Jordan. His children eventually returned to school but their financial situation remained precarious.
With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a determination to find a job to provide for his family, Wajeeh enrolled in multiple courses to expand his skillset.
“I hold a PhD from the University of Damascus,” he says. “In Syria I worked in both academia and trade.
“Within these 10 years in Jordan, I’ve been able to secure various academic certificates,” smiles Wajeeh, gesturing to the certificates hanging on his living room wall.
The garden that encircles Wajeeh’s home overflows with greenery. From arching evergreen olive and loquat trees, to tiny strawberries peeking through delicate leaves, his garden radiates life.
In a small shed next to the garden, sacks upon sacks full of organic fertiliser sit in cool darkness. Bold lettering spell out “Dr Wajeeh Al Barqawi” in Arabic.
During his search for a sustainable source of income, Wajeeh settled on growing and producing mushrooms at home after researching the needs of his surrounding community.
Armed with a 50 Jordanian Dinar (approximately USD 70) investment, and a small space above his kitchen cabinets, Wajeeh embarked on an agricultural adventure.
“I tried it on a small scale with minimal funding,” he says. “I only spent about 50 Jordanian Dinars on my pilot project.
“Producing mushrooms is a financially lucrative industry because they require little care. I was able to turn a profit within 45 days with my nominal investment.”
Following this initial success, business for Wajeeh boomed.
“I began to develop my project and spread the word within my community. In the span of a year, we were able to market this idea across the city.
“Because growing mushrooms requires such a small amount of effort, and because it would suit a variety of lifestyles, I began to run training sessions on how to cultivate and produce them.”
Wajeeh did not stop there.
“Looking further ahead, and more importantly, recycling what remains after harvesting mushrooms is key,” he says. “Mushroom waste is so rich in oxygen and other minerals that are essential for the soil, resulting in an excellent, natural fertiliser.
“This is a low-cost, organic substitute to what is available in the market, which is necessary especially considering the current economic climate.
“Taking it even one step further, we began to look into alternatives for farmers that would benefit them, decrease production expenses, and save water.
“Our research culminated in the manufacture of a natural fertiliser that not only requires less water but also increases crop yield.”
With the support of a local start-up incubator, Wajeeh and his team are hoping to develop this project further and begin production on a large scale.
NRC’s ICLA programme helped Wajeeh secure the legal documents he needed to remain in Jordan, send his children to school, and establish his business. This included helping Wajeeh ratify his marriage, register the birth of three children born in Jordan, and establish paternity for two children born in Syria.
NRC Jordan’s ICLA (Information, Counselling, & Legal Assistance) programme is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid.