My name is Assma Tellawi and I used to have an ordinary life. I was living in Damascus with my husband and two children, in our own house, and was working in Nestlé Syria as a Consumer Services Manager. But, with the war in Syria, everything changed and we eventually had to leave country. Here is my story.
I began my career in Nestlé Syria in Damascus in 1999. I started as an accountant, before moving to distribution and supply chain. It was a time when Nestlé Syria was growing. I recall that I used to take a Nestlé bus to the head office, which was located about 40-minutes outside Damascus.
The factory just next to the head office produced brands like MAGGI, Milo and Cerelac. The products were exported to other countries in the Middle East and the export kept growing. At the same time, many brands were imported: NESCAFÈ, milk powder products and infant formula.
After five years in purchasing and supply chain, I found a new direction in my career. I started working with Consumer Services and soon becoming the Consumer Services Manager, working primarily for the MAGGI brand. Back then, we were a market leader for MAGGI.
I worked the consumer contacts, but also with launching many different consumer events and activities to raise the awareness and brand loyalty of MAGGI.
We worked in the community and with unions and other stakeholders, reaching out in society. We organized cooking shows on TV, cooking competitions for students at the university in Damascus, and reached out to newlyweds to teach the women how to cook. We created a MAGGI house – which was like a club – for women, in Damascus, where women of different backgrounds and ages came together to cook and interact and learn about nutrition and other topics.
These events and activities had a huge reach and gained a lot of media coverage, boosted sales, and caught the interest from the Nestlé Headquarters. For example, strategic business teams from Switzerland frequently visited Nestlé Syria to see how we worked with the MAGGI brand.
But in 2011, it all came to an end, and so did my career. Life in Syria changed and as a result of the war and instability, Nestlé Syria went through downsizing.
The factory was bombed to bits and pieces in 2013 and Nestlé Syria had to rent office space at the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus.
I recall the fear and insecurity in everyday life. I remember how the children had to come home straight after school as it was too dangerous to be outside. How the electricity was cut on and off, and how my eldest son had to do his homework by candle light. How the water sometimes was there and sometimes not. How my ten-minute walk home from the temporary Nestlé office could end up taking up to two hours, since I was constantly stopped at tedious ID controls. Then, there was the constant bombing.
My family decided to leave. Life was too unsafe. My husband went to Europe first. He left in 2013, travelled to Egypt, and from there crossed over the sea to Italy in a rubber boat with many others. The journey took nine days. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep for the nine days we did not hear from him.
Finally, he arrived in Italy, and he called.
After some time in Italy, my husband made his way to Sweden and could apply for our family to join him after he got his permanent residency.
I left Nestlé Syria on Feb.2014, and I along with our two sons arrived in Sweden in July 2014.
The first year was very hard. I left my sisters and brothers behind in Syria and it was very difficult.
From my first day in Sweden, I started looked for a job. Eventually, I contacted Nestlé’s Headquarters, and Nestlé Helsingborg office and in February 2016, I started a temporary position as a commercial support assistant. Now, and by support from Nordic HR, in the spring of 2017, I work in the Nordic HR team in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a communication assistant.
These two opportunities in Nestlé Nordics have changed my life here. And even though the future is uncertain, I really, really appreciate my experience here in Nestlé.
Everything has taken a really long time. Landing in a new country, culture and life takes time. But now we have settled and we see a future. We left to find safety and we have found safety. Imagine, our children have studied since they first arrived in Sweden. And hopefully my older son will go to university soon. In Syria, the children have not studied for some five years.
Who: Assma Tellawi
Where: Lives in Helsingborg with her husband and two sons (14 and 20-years-old).
What: Her contract in HR at Nestlé Nordic is temporary and runs until the 30th of April 2017.
Assma has a BA in economy and has great experience in finance, Supply chain, and sales & marketing in international companies. She has been at Nestlé for more than 16 years and has worked 11 months, during 2016, at Nestlé Sweden as Commercial Support Assistant. At the moment, she has had four months of work in the HR Department at Nestlé Nordic.
At Nestlé Syria she worked with finance, with procurement and supply chain, and later became the manager of consumer services.
Her language skills include Arabic (native language), English (fluent) and Swedish (average).
Motto: “I have always appreciated Nestlé principles all my life and Nestlé always supported me as an employee, as a mother and as a human being.”