The Story of Wafa

A role model for gypsies


Wafa is a Dom, the Doms are an ethnic minority group present in the Middle East.   Similar to the Romas, or Gypsies of Europe, they are thought to be descendants of a group of itinerant performers who originated in India and who travelled westwards through Persia in several waves of migration.    Wafa belongs to a community of a few thousand Doms who live in Hay el Gharbi, the most dangerous slum in West Beirut.   The Doms are despised, discriminated against by other groups and sit at the very bottom of the socio-economic pyramid. Their sense of identity is marked by shame throughout the centuries…


Wafa lives in a shack with her unemployed husband and 6 kids including a son with a disability. Life has not been easy for Wafa and her family, survival is a daily challenge, the absence of work, the lack of skills and their state of poverty give them little hope for a better future. When Wafa was offered training and a steady salary at 2b design she did not know what to make of it. Thinking of her 14-year-old daughter working as a “dancer” in seedy bars Wafa decided to give 2b design’s offer a try.  What if this was her long-awaited opportunity to support her family, bring her daughter back home and become a role model for the women of her community? Wafa did start working for 2b design. At first, adjusting to a structured work setting was hard and dealing with non-muslim colleagues did not make her feel comfortable but as she learned new skills and with a salary that she could count on things started to change for the better: Sarah a young American living in Beirut volunteered to teach Wafa how to read and write in Arabic.  An American teaching a shantytown dweller how to read and write!!  This kind of grassroots example of bridge-building goes a long way in improving the perceptions of Americans and vice versa.  As for Wafa’s teenage daughter, she returned home to take care of her little brothers and sisters. 

Women can be powerful agents of change in communities…what if we could transform the lives of so many more Wafas?

Note: Wafa had to leave us for family reasons but we hope to work with Wafa again soon.