In this feature, ILO News reports how Jordanian Omar Abu Noa’aj struggled for years to find work due to his physical disability. Last year, an ILO employment centre helped him secure his first formal job at a garment factory, giving him a new sense of independence and purpose.

Omar Abu Noa’aji at work having a great feeling… Photo credit: ILO

GROWING up with a physical disability was very challenging for Jordanian Omar Abu Noa’aj. He was bullied at school and didn’t have many friends. And as an adult, he struggled to find work.

“I have a disability in my back. I can’t stand properly,” Abu Noa’aj told the ILO. “I left school in the second grade. The other children used to laugh at me. My mother said that I should stay home with her.”

The death of Abu Noa’aj’s mother in 2016 had a devastating effect on his mental wellbeing. But this made the 28-year-old determined to get his life back on track and find work. He took up several electrical and sewing training courses, but despite these efforts, finding work was still difficult. “I tried to find work but couldn’t because people would look at me and just see my disability.”

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One day in 2019, Abu Noa’aj came across an announcement by the ILO, encouraging job-seekers to contact one of its employment centres to find out about available employment opportunities.

Omar reached out to the employment centre in the northern city of Irbid, which referred him to a nearby garment factory, where he is currently employed. The centre in Irbid is one of a network of centres connecting Jordanian and non-Jordanian job-seekers with employment and training opportunities in a number of sectors.

The Irbid centre is supported by the ‘Partnership for improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities’ (PROSPECTS), a multi-agency programme funded by the Government of the Netherlands, which aims to improve conditions for some of the country’s most vulnerable host community members and refugees.

“The PROSPECTS partnership focuses on three main pillars: employment with dignity, education and vocational training, and social protection,” explains Shaza Al Jondi, Chief Technical Advisor for ILO PROSPECTS for Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. “As part of the employment pillar, the ILO seeks to enhance employment services to help connect job-seekers with employers. We are working in governorates with high rates of vulnerability and unemployment and with a high concentration of Syrian refugees.”

Situated in the rural Zmalia area in the Jordan Valley, the Classic Fashion Apparel Industry Co. where Abu Noa’aj works is a satellite garment unit employing residents from nearby areas with limited economic opportunities.

“What distinguishes this factory is that it has various branches in rural areas that are poor and have high unemployment rates,” explained Eman Mustafa, ILO employment officer, who helped Omar secure his job.

Ahmad Nseirat, factory manager at Classic’s Zmalia branch, explains how the satellite unit has been working closely with the ILO to ensure that Abu Noa’aj’s needs at work are met.

“We helped secure transportation for Omar due to his special needs, and we trained him on different production lines at the factory. Due to the disability in his legs, we have provided him with a sewing machine which is operated by hand (…) Omar is a hard worker and was able to develop himself,” says Nseirat.

A year on since his employment, Abu Noa’aj says his life has been transformed. Besides receiving a regular income, working has helped improve his mental wellbeing.

“Before I started working, I used to see people going to work in the morning and say: ‘What a great feeling that must be.’ Now, I know what this feeling is like,” Abu Noa’aj said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought on new challenges for Abu Noa’aj, who was forced to stay at home during the early months of lockdown, he remains positive and is grateful to now be back at work. “Before I started working, I was home all the time, so during the lockdown, I was worried that I would not be able to go back to work (…) I was thankful when the factory re-opened; at least I can see people again.”

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