You know that families need more than just emergency food and minimal shelter in order to have a complete life.
There are times when families fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria need food, urgent medical care, and short-term shelter more than anything else. But after that—after we’ve met their immediate needs—what’s next?
What’s next for housing? How are they going to put food in the pantry? What about their children’s education?
What is the next step toward healing? Often that step involves earning an income.
We’re committed to helping people rebuild their lives from the rubble of conflict—to give families more control over their lives by making them stronger and more confident.
As part of this coalition, you are helping refugees become small business owners, employers, and providers. You’re helping them find sustainable sources of revenue and hope for their families and local community.
Here’s how you helped families in northern Iraq take the first step toward well-being last month:
The Process Begins and Ends With Listening.
The first step is listening. Our team here in Iraq identifies men and women displaced from various parts of Iraq and Syria who have an idea, a vision. These individuals already have the knowledge and skills to move forward. Many of them have graduated from college, have work experience, or have logged thousands of hours at their trade. What they need is someone to listen to their plan and provide the tools to make it happen.
When someone enters our empowerment program, we conduct an initial interview to document their background and learn more about the members of their household, their skills, and their business idea.
Next, we go to the bazaar with them to purchase the necessary tools and supplies. They receive a budget and decide for themselves what they need most.
After they begin their work, we make three or more follow-up visits over the next two months. We check product quality, take a look at their place of business, and if needed, offer coaching on advertising, budgeting, and making a business plan.
But these visits are also about deepening our relationship with our refugee friends—working through setbacks and celebrating successes together. Often, we develop meaningful bonds through laughter and tears.
Last month in Iraq, you helped Iraqi and Syrian refugees start new businesses and build existing ones. Men and women engaged in sewing, crochet, candle-making, soap-making, raising chickens and sheep, providing medical care, operating beauty salons, and more.
Each new business does more than just help the owner—the whole local economy is strengthened as raw materials are purchased close to home and profits are used to meet the family’s needs.
These Aren’t Projects to Us. They’re People.
You have given each person in our empowerment program the chance to do something tangible with their education and skills. In fact, it’s not about the program itself—it’s about the people impacted.
Here are three recent stories of seamstresses at work in one part of northern Iraq:
Nasrin is a sweet, kind-hearted woman who has her hands full caring for five children—including one with a severe disability. She and her family fled from Syria in 2014 and have been living in a refugee camp in Iraq ever since. You provided her with a sewing machine and supplies, and she is very happy making less expensive clothes for her children—and generating income from a handful of customers. Nasrin said she is especially grateful to be able to work from home, because she doesn’t know who else could care for her special needs daughter. Her business is small but moving forward.
Fatima’s brother taught her to sew when she was younger—carrying on the tradition of many tailors in the family. Today, she is widowed and cares for her two teenage children. They must survive on very little money, but she still manages to be peppy and enthusiastic.
When Fatima first left Syria, she worked in a sewing factory. But after relocating, she didn’t have a machine. When you provided one for her, she couldn’t wait to show us the dresses she made and how she mended her children’s clothing. She doesn't let anything go to waste. She’s patched blankets and cushions as well as turned long pants into shorts. It has been hard for Fatima to find customers, but her sewing machine is as a cherished possession, and she is grateful she can better provide for her children because of it.
Hadia has 35 years of sewing experience but after she got displaced she had to borrow her neighbor’s machine until you provided her with one of her own. Hadia’s husband cannot work, so she and her son provide for their household of five adults.
On a recent visit, Hadia invited us in for strong Arabic coffee. She had exciting news—one daughter is engaged and looking forward to her wedding. Business has been good, with customers ordering traditional clothing for weddings and for Nawroz, a traditional holiday celebrating the first day of spring. Many seamstresses see their business dry up after the Nawroz festival, but Hadia’s customers are still coming. She is saving her money to upgrade to an industrial sewing machine.
There is no fail-proof formula to empowering refugees. Even if you have job skills, planning, and hard work, you cannot guarantee a thriving business. Many other factors—depression, stress-related illness, and helping children cope with grief—are also in play. Not every empowerment story ends with a healthy business and family problems solved.
But after nearly ten years of living and serving in the Middle East, we’re committed to not only meet people's emergency needs, but also to walk with them on the longer journey toward wholeness—with every setback and success along the way. We are committed to strengthening Iraq and helping build stronger cities and communities.
And we’re grateful you walk that road with us.
Our monthly sponsors empower refugees and help families rebuild from the ashes of war. Their consistent support ensures that these families have what they need to flourish today and for many, many tomorrows.
Walk with refugee families on their journey toward wholeness.