Syrian Mom Goes From Refugee to Entrepreneur: Here's Her Inspiring Story

This mom's cookie business is not only inspiring, but it's showing a beautiful side of Syria many people don't get to experience.
David Naugle

You've got to hear this inspiring success story about a woman named Ruwaida, whose life circumstances stacked the odds against her—but didn't stop her from rising above the many challenges she faced and becoming a successful entrepreneur.

It all started when Ruwaida became a mother at age 17, and then a Syrian refugee at age 24. But now she, her husband Khaled, and their two kids live in Atlanta and she runs a cookie company called "Sweet, Sweet, Syria," despite not knowing much English or having many connections here in the U.S.

Incredibly, her talent for baking authentic Syrian cookies has translated into Ruwaida becoming the breadwinner for her household.

A GoFundMe page set up by parents at the school her kids attend has raised almost $19,000 to cover the business's licensing costs, insurance, ingredients, and supplies, but Ruwaida still needs more support. Additional funds will go towards "official paperwork, [to] purchase a membership with a local shared kitchen, buy supplies and hopefully purchase a delivery van."

The campaign organizers behind her page, who call themselves "The Advisers," are also aiding with translation, logistics, and business education for the entrepreneur and her husband.

Ruwaida's current success and access to resources are a far cry from where she found herself at age 24, fleeing Syria. As friend Marnie Grodzin explains on GoFundMe about the family, "They left behind two apartments—now destroyed. They left behind two electronic stores—bombed. They left behind family—in Syria and in Jordan. Family who goes days without electricity, days without food."

She adds, "The family ate everything they could eat before they left, and took with them only the smallest things they could carry. Cell phones—a photo album and life line, of course. Jewelry—Ruwaida lined her arms with bracelets, her neck with chains, as if she were going to all the parties at once. Each piece was sold when they reached Jordan, paying for the things the family needed to survive. With nothing left to sell when they reached America, Ruwaida was grateful that she still had, at least, the small wooden cookie mold that her mother had used to teach her how to bake traditional Syrian cookies. It was the only other thing she had carried with her when they left their world behind."

Grodzin goes on to explain about her friend's treats, "Through her cookies, Ruwaida is sharing a side of Syria that most Americans sadly won't get to experience—one that is warm, generous, and so very sweet."

The community first got to sample the cookies when friends encouraged her to sell them at a local neighborhood music festival. "Within three hours, and before the bands even started playing, Ruwaida sold out of the 45 dozen cookies she had diligently prepared and packaged in the days leading up to the event," her GoFundMe page recounts, adding, "Although Ruwaida has never worked outside the home, after her experience at the music festival, she has become determined to share more of this sweet, sweet side of Syria with the world. And her husband is proud to support her as she does so."

Amanda Avutu, one of Ruwaida's advisors, said via email that the family knows there are people who have negative preconceptions about Syrian refugees. "One of the things she hopes people will realize as she shares her story is that she and her family want what all of us want—peace, to succeed, to build something for our children."

"Despite everything her family has been through, she maintains a positive attitude and looks toward the future, not the past," Avutu said. "She wants people to understand that giving up is never, ever an option."

Visit the GoFundMe page created by Grodzin and her friends to learn more and to support this amazing, impressive, highly-driven mama!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.

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