HOMS, Syria (AFP) – In Syria’s Homs, scene of some of the war’s worst fighting, a program is helping tradesmen and women back to work by offering them tools in exchange for training apprentices.

The idea came to Abdel-Nasser al-Sheikh Fatuh when he saw a man at a center for displaced people, searching desperately for a job.

“I sympathized with this carpenter, from Bayada, who had lost his workshop,” he told AFP, referring to a Homs district retaken by the army in March 2012 and now totally deserted.

“There is a hadith (religious saying) in which the Prophet Mohammed gave an ax to a man who asked him for help and invited him to work and cut wood,” Fatuh said.

“We must be positive and not count on others to make it in life.”

With two other businessmen in the town, he has offered toolkits to 18 men and women living with their families in a displaced persons center.

The recipients, living in the Inshaat district next to the devastated former rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, pledge in return to train young apprentices in their chosen field.

“It’s like a chain. Once the apprentice has learned the trade, their turn will come to get a toolkit on the condition that they train someone else,” said Fatuh.

The industrialist no longer has access to his own factory which makes copper buckets because security on the edges of the city is precarious.

In the interim, he has poured himself into helping those displaced in the city, where the government now controls all but one neighborhood after the evacuation of around 2,000 rebels last week.

The Abdel Mohayem Abbas displaced persons reception center in Inshaat hosts around 100 families — some 500 people — in a former school.

Donations from Fatuh and the other two businessmen, along with funds from other benefactors and the United Nations, keep the center open.

At the entrance, a large sign reads: “Our workshops offer professionals well trained in different specialties. Those who wish to benefit from our services are requested to call this number.”

‘The Productive Hand’

Among the trades on offer are carpenters, blacksmiths, electricians, plumbers and hairdressers.

Rawaa, 38, fled 28 months ago from the Jab al-Jandali neighborhood, which was under siege by Syria’s army for nearly two years.

“I had a ladies’ hair salon. I lost everything. I had to move several times before coming to the center,” she told AFP.

Wearing a black abaya overcoat and a pink headscarf, Rawaa described her participation in the program, dubbed “The Productive Hand.”

She received brushes, scissors, a hairdryer and other hair products and now cuts hair at the homes of her customers before returning to the center, where she trains 13 women aged 18 to 40.

“I wanted to teach young women my trade so they have a way to make money. We never know what life will bring,” she said with a smile.

Mother of three Rima Nahhal, 28, is happy to be learning the trade.

“At night I get the training, and during the day I practice by doing the hair of the women in the center,” she said.

“I may end up doing this as a job later, to improve my life.”

The program’s founders hope that the simple gift of the tools of a trade can help get those who would otherwise depend on aid back on their feet.

Abu Wael, a 45-year-old plumber, is training two young men who also help him out at work.

“Customers are calling me to come and do repairs and, thanks to God, I’m earning a living,” he said.

For Rasha, an English professor who volunteered to manage the project, the program is a way to help people devastated by conflict return to normality.

“They have good experience, but they have lost their jobs and become displaced,” she said.

“This projects gives them hope again, and that will reflect onto society in a positive way.”