Amman, Jordan — The aroma of fresh bread wafts out of the bustling Al-Houri Bakery in the Tabarbour neighborhood of Amman.
Established in 1991, the bakery is one of largest in the neighborhood, and is recognized for its traditional Syrian pastries. Ibrahim Al-Houri, the owner, sits at a desk behind the shelves lined with different kinds of bread and sweets. A sign hangs on the wall stating that there is free bread for distribution.
“I am not a charity organization. This comes from a spirit of cooperation; we are all family,” said 40-year-old Al-Houri, lighting a cigarette.
Al-Houri’s Bakery provides free bread daily for approximately 180 Syrian families in the neighborhood. To avoid anyone coming in and asking for bread, Al-Houri has created his own voucher system that allows refugee and vulnerable families to come in and pick up what they need.
“You cannot humiliate the person you are giving to. The reason we use the voucher cards is so that no has to ever come in and ask for bread,” Al-Houri said.
He pulls out a stack of papers from his desk, showing me how the distribution is organized. Each family is given a card at the beginning of each month that can be used to pick up bread every day. Customers and neighbors who want to help out can offer to sponsor anything from 1 JD of bread to an entire month’s worth of bread for a family by leaving a receipt or cash in a donation box near the exit.
“There are Syrian families here who have no benefactors,” said Al-Houri. “There is a family I know here, their father is disabled, and the oldest child is 13. Their rent alone is 250 JD (equal to $351 USD) , that’s not counting the family’s expenses and the father’s medicine. All that is on the shoulders of the child.”
In September, the World Food Program (WFP) cut its food voucher assistance off from a third of Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern host countries like Jordan due to insufficient funds. Al-Houri said the cutbacks in aid, alongside many Syrians’ inability to work to work legally in Jordan, have deteriorated refugees’ situations further, forcing many to work illegally. Since the food vouchers were cut, he has seen an increase in the number of families signing up for free bread from the bakery.
“Syrians are going to work, whether they like it or not. They have to eat, so they will work, or turn to other methods,” Al-Houri said.
Originally from Damascus, Al-Houri’s family has lived in Jordan since the 1920s, and although he carries a Jordanian passport, he identifies as Syrian.
“You cannot deny your origins,” said Al-Houri. “I’m one of the people who are in love with Syria.”
Hiba Dlewati is a Syrian American journalist and writer moving throughout Jordan, Turkey and Sweden to document and narrate the stories of the Syrian diaspora. Twitter: @Hiba_Dlewati