Meet Safaa Sukkariah: the Woman Who Trains Female Refugees to Become Plumbers

From making and selling jewelry in Syria, to working as a plumber in Jordan. Read the inspirational story behind a woman named Safa’a Sukkariah.

Who is she?

Safa’a Sukkariah is a refugee living in Jordan. Her home was destroyed and her business looted during the country’s civil conflict. In 2014 she fled Syria with her family. relocated to Irbid in the north of Jordan. She was forced to rebuild her life in a new city.

After arriving in Jordan, she found that her sewing and accessory-making skills were not highly requested. She used to be a jewellery designer in her country of origin. After accidentaly signing up for plumbing workshop, she decided to continue and make a real job out of it. With her husband unable to work due to a stroke, Safaa decided to completely focus on the training.

Empowering women through the training

“I try to help women empower themselves.”

The course lasted for two months and Safaa started doing repairs in her own home to gain experience, before moving on to helping out friends and family.

“In the beginning, repairing a [toilet] would take us almost the whole day, then half a day, and now it takes us as long as other male plumbers – maximum half an hour,” she says.

“Over time, I started to expand. I would do the houses in my area and my friends would do the ones near them. We worked for almost a year just to practice,” she explains. “Then we thought: ‘Why not open our own thing? Why work for free?’”

Safaa has now opened a big business as well as the region’s only training center for female plumbers. She has trained hundreds of women, and currently provides work for 36 freelance plumbers, more than half of those women are Syrian refugees.

“I try to help women to empower themselves financially and socially,” Safaa explains. “Many of their husbands have stopped working, so it is useful for them to use this skill to generate an income for their families.”

Safaa instructs a group of Syrian refugee trainees during a workshop at her academy.. © UNHCR/Jose Cendon

Boosting the participation of refugees in society

In Jordan, the participation of refugees in the construction, agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality industries has made it possible for them to make a positive contribution to the country’s economy. Providing refugees with training and employment opportunities is crucial to boosting their empowerement and reducing dependence on other, traditional forms of aid. It also allows them to provide for their family’s needs as well as properly prepare for the future.

When it comes to the reactions that Safaa receives when people see her carrying her tools to jobs in her blue overalls and headscarf, she says the responses have been mostly positive. And those wo are not, she had now decidesd to ignore them.

“I am very proud of myself.”

“A woman is the carpenter, the blacksmith and the plumber in her own house – it is just normal. But if she goes and does this work at someone else’s house, it becomes unusual,” she says. “Part of my persistence in doing this job is to challenge stereotypes and break taboos, so I am very proud of myself and the women working with me.”

Safaa believes she and her team of mostly female plumbers may have found a gap in the market. “Many of our female clients prefer to have women working in their homes rather than men, so even though it may seem an unusual idea, it makes sense.”

Safaa thinks about the past and gets nostalgic but she has found a new passtime. “Jewellery will always be my passion, but now if people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a plumber.”