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Maher Obeid had to flee for his life as the Syrian civil war arrived on his doorstep.

Now he’s relaunched his accounting career at a UK charity providing Syrian aid.

By 2013, Syria had been torn apart by civil war for two years. Isis was yet to make its presence known in the region, but a number of rebel factions and the Assad regime (and their respective international backers) were battling across the country, including in major cities such as Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo. According to the UN, 90,000 people had been killed by June 2013. In August, chemical weapons were used in the streets of Damascus. And, in the middle of all this, at Damascus University, Maher Obeid was studying English literature.

“Although I studied English literature – and I do love it – I have more passion for accountancy,” he says. “I have a passion for the day-to-day work.” He graduated, and worked as an accounts assistant at a solar power company in the city. Then the Assad regime came knocking: Obeid was called into military service. He was to take up arms against his rebel neighbours, killing, and possibly dying, for the regime. Deserters claim to have been fined, imprisoned, tortured, and their families sanctioned, but Obeid still refused to join.

It was a fight or flight situation, and Obeid chose flight. “I had no way to delay this or get out of it. So I felt I had to get away,” he says.

Starting from scratch

Obeid and his family became refugees, and they found themselves in the UK. They settled in Manchester, and did their best to create a new life. Full of hope for the future, Obeid was keen to carry on with his career in accounting. “When I came here, I had to start again with my studies, because there are different standards,” he says. “I had to start from the beginning.”

Obeid did some research and found an AAT course at Salford City College. He read and spoke English well, thanks to his English literature degree, and dived in feet first, completing the Level 1 access course in six weeks, and finishing Level 2 six months later. “Some of the British terminologies were difficult but otherwise I haven’t found it too hard, especially as I started from the beginning again,” he explains. “If I started with Level 3 or 4, I might have struggled more but starting with the basics helped me to build up to the more complicated subjects. My tutors were very happy with my performance as well.”

Whenever a specific term or practice stumped him, Obeid would throw himself into additional research, reading online articles, watching videos, and seeking advice and guidance on social media and accounting forums. He also started working as an accounts assistant, which gave him more practical experience of the different elements of accounting.

Helping his homeland

Obeid works for Syria Relief, a small charity dedicated to funding and facilitating aid projects in the country, operating from Manchester and Turkey.

His love for his work and the career he is forging is clear. Carving out a successful path in accounting is very important to him – he has a bright future and can support his family as they move on from the drama of fleeing their home country. He also really enjoys his day-to-day tasks. “Because it’s a small organisation, every one of us has to multitask,” he says. “There isn’t one person involved in payroll, one person in expenses – we all provide many functions. It’s quite enjoyable and interesting.”

As well as the breadth of experience the role is giving Obeid, it also allows him to help his home country. “It is great to be able to work for a company that is doing good and giving something back to Syria,” he says. “Working in a charity involves a lot of tasks and it’s good for me. In a bigger company, you’re more likely to have one task that you do every day. Here, I get to try everything. It can be hard, but it will help me to develop more and to become better faster.”

Putting down roots

Obeid has a clear path in mind. In seven to eight years, he wants to be in a position to run his own accountancy practice. He should finish Level 4 this year, he says, and he’s considering taking an ACCA course. “We came here in 2013. It’s now 2016, and we’ve come so far” he says.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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