Women for Peace: Community-Empowerment and Capacity-building in Al Raqqa Syria

By: ALessia Baker

Women for Peace is a local civil society organisation operating in North and East Syria since 2017. It’s core mission is to empower and offer protection to the local community in the region, especially women, children and adolescents. Women for Peace is committed to strengthening education, capacity building, together with building economic development to support people’s livelihoods. The organisation’s work is playing an important role in supporting society’s cohesion and development, having an invaluable impact on communities in the war-stricken city of Al-Raqqa. 

The organisation runs its projects by providing learning and capacity building spaces, where community members get a chance to network with other individuals and their own institutions. In addition, their activities are also aimed at providing financial and technical support for individuals to implement projects in a participatory manner, based on the value of collaboration and active citizenship. As a result of Women’s for Peace initiatives, the economic conditions of many women in Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor have improved and work opportunities for unemployed youth have also been created. In parallel, the organization also worked to encourage youth and women to participate in peace building activities to strengthen community cohesion. Central to the organisation’s activities has also been the rehabilitation of spaces for children to play and experience the world around them in a safe environment.

Many activities have focused on improving individuals’ health and building awareness among the population to provide support to vulnerable members of the community. For example, a health care project focused on children and women with diabetes distributing insulin devices and organising awareness-raising sessions. 

Similarly, the ‘Pink Month’ initiative focused on building breast cancer awareness and support. Other projects targeted the youth, educating young people on the risks of taking drugs and, in general, involving the youth in stimulating activities.  A number of projects also revolved around supporting individuals with disabilities, providing children with special assistance and distributing chairs and material to better cope with their disabilities. In response to the more current health challenge posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, educational sessions on the risks posed by the virus were organised and protective masks were distributed in the schools.

Education and sport also play a central role in the organisation’s work, providing better opportunities for local kids and helping them build stronger bonds with each other and their community. For example, the Youth Change Project trained adolescents in agriculture and artisanry. In a similar way, the Change Leaders project developed leadership skills. Another successful volunteer-based project involved students and parents in a cleaning project restoring  schools and public spaces after they had been liberated from ISIS. Additional initiatives  focused on sport activities as a medium to encourage peace and tolerance within the community. For instance, Women for Peace sponsored the first primary school football championship in coordination with the Sports and Youth Committee and the Education Committee, under the name of ‘The Love and Peace League’.

Among the countless stories that exemplify Women for Peace’s success and importance in empowering the local community in Al-Raqqa, a particularly inspiring and touching story is the experience of Ward Hammoud Al-Ismae. Ward Hammoud is a young 22 year old woman with special needs, having been born with only 2 fingers on each hand and foot. Lacking adequate support due to her family’s poverty, Ward Hammoud was always introverted and did not interact with the other kids. The support of the Women for Peace programs changed her life for the better, giving her a chance to find her own place in society: 

‘’The training had a great impact in changing her life and gaining her greater self-confidence and making her possess good capabilities that would qualify her to work in the civil field where she applied to a job in the Civil Administration in Al-Raqqa as a data entry operator and after her success in the employment competition she was appointed and became active in society and able to improve her family’s living situation.’’ – shared Hind Mohammed, Head of Women for Peace. 

At the moment, Women for Peace is working on a project focused on creating safe spaces for adolescents to interact in society. The ‘Bridges Project’ is based out of a youth center equipped with a number of departments: a section for sports, one to develop arts and crafts, a cinema, a music room and also spaces to host capacity building trainings.These departments are supervised by trainers and facilitators specializing in these activities. Around 500 young people from the area will benefit from the project. The organization has many more plans in the pipeline to continue developing the area and open new doors to the local communities.

However, as many local organisations operating in remote and at risk areas, Women for Peace is faced with the constant challenge of accessing enough funds to carry out their important work. The needs of the organisation and the prerogatives of potential donors are not always aligned making it hard to attract funding, which in turn is causing a brain drain and lack of resources for the organisation’s activities.  

The collaboration with Capoeira for Refugees has the aim to expand the scope of the women’s and youth empowerment and will also support Women’s for Peace activities in order for the organisation to continue and develop their impactful  work in the Syrian city of Al Raqqa.