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In Iraq, with increased numbers of returnees to Qayyarah, Action Against Hunger responds to growing needs for employment opportunities.
The Qayyarah town lies on the Tigris River’s west bank, some 70 kilometers south of Mosul. For many decades, the local economy suffered from a lack of income-generating and employment opportunities and observed an increasing number of households living under the poverty line. Two and a half years under the control of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) group and armed confrontations had a tremendously negative impact on the population and the town. An estimated 35% of the infrastructure remains damaged or destroyed.
More than 35,000 residents fled Qayyarah before it fell under the control of ISIS militants in 2014. The period of occupation that followed, and the subsequent operations to retake the town have left long-lasting impacts that will continue to affect the residents for years to come.
Marwa recalls those “frustrating and dark days” under ISIS occupation and her family being forced to leave its own house. “ISIS members forced us to leave our house and confiscated it for their use. In a short time, they arrested my brother who was our sole breadwinner“. Her family lived in severe conditions and could not afford to buy essentials, such as food. “And after the liberation from ISIS, we discovered our house completely destroyed.”
After several years between Kirkuk and Erbil, the living of Alaa and her family did not improve right away. “My husband lost his job because of COVID-19. As he had neither work nor money, our life turned into sadness and depression again“. The life of another resident, Muna, also turned into survival after her husband’s death during the liberation of the town: “Suddenly I became all alone with my daughter, and the emptiness filled our lives. We moved to my family’s house with 14 other family members. They were facing a dire economic situation. I needed to ask my parents or my brothers for anything I needed, and it was the most difficult and embarrassing thing to do. There was no other choice.”
In previous years, most of the residents of Qayyarah were dependent on government salaries. After the occupation and military operations, hundreds have lost their jobs in these sectors. Today, with an unemployment rate of up to 70%, some residents have to buy food and other essential supplies on credit from shops.
Today, both men and women face severe challenges in accessing job opportunities or finding a steady income source. Action Against Hunger’s recent assessment conducted in Qayyarah has revealed that the absence of start-up capital is one of the main obstacles that makes it difficult to open former or new businesses. Deteriorated economic situation, security restrictions, competition, and the lack of business skills are the main factors negatively affecting business performance. In addition, the rental cost is increasing in the country, and very often, three or four months’ advance rental payment is required upfront.
Action Against Hunger decided to overcome these challenges by implementing a specific program1 to support new business ideas and small start-ups. It looks towards sustainable employment solutions, as long as new businesses will generate more job opportunities on the local market.
« I used to spend my spare time making pastries for my family, relatives, and friends. They are used to seeing me making cakes, sweets, and juices for birthday parties and events“. Even though Alaa enjoyed cooking all her life, she never thought it would become her first job. Back to Qayyarah, she submitted her business idea for a bakery.
« Action Against Hunger called me, and at that moment, I felt indescribably happy. I felt fear of big responsibility. But through training, I overcame my fears, and I gained experience in marketing and promotion that made me motivated to expand and develop my business in the future.”
In Iraq, mental health and psychosocial support is an essential part of Action Against Hunger programs. Thanks to this expertise, fresh business owners benefit from Life, Social and Emotional (LSE) training, overcoming fears, and developing social skills before embarking on business implementation.
Today, everyone in Qayyarah can buy sweets and candies at Alaa’s bakery. Her business is going well, and she expresses incredible gratitude to Action Against Hunger teams and her loved ones. “My husband was an applicant for his business idea also. However, we had to keep only one business plan. At that moment, I felt that I am the luckiest woman in the world, as he decided to drop his idea and fully support my plan. He believed in my abilities and helped me to achieve my dream!”
In the future, Alaa plans to develop other services, such as training for women and girls in the manufacture of pastries, and provide job opportunities to women in the region.
After her second divorce, Marwa struggled to get back on her feet. She worked in many places for meager wages, and at some point, she reached the ultimate frustration. Rather than end in complete despair, Marwa submitted her business proposal to open a dress rental shop.
“The idea of a dress rental business was my dream since my childhood. I felt thrilled when my mother went shopping, and I used to insist on her to take me to the shops with wedding and second-hand dresses to have a look at her, wander around the store and contemplate its beauty.”
Action Against Hunger teams supported Marwa’s idea and provided peer-to-peer training on business planning, clothing rental, accounting, proper ironing, and customer service. In the end, her business idea turned out to be a big success: “I still remember that night before my first day at work. I did not sleep from the intensity of happiness, and I woke up early in the morning to send the dress to the customer through the delivery service.”
“One day, a friend invited me to her wedding. I had nothing to offer, but I thought that I would offer her a service that might make her happy. With flowers, table, chairs, and some decorative fabrics, I designed a complete decoration for her party.” This experience was critical to Muna’s future, as she was looking for a steady income.
Muna developed her business idea of wedding services and shortly received Action Against Hunger support to turn it into action. She successfully completed technical training, and her wedding service achieved a very good profit in less than one month. She raises her daughter alone and faces numerous challenges as widows are often stigmatized and excluded from active life in their communities. “I was so happy that my family has been challenged and allowed me to go ahead with the opening of a Facebook page for my business.”
“My daughter and I would like to thank Action Against Hunger. Our lives have turned from despair and dependence into hope and self-reliance.” Muna advises everyone not to lose hope and never give up.
Alaa, Marwa, and Muna are among 38 Qayyarah residents, women and men, who received support from the program. Each selected business project benefits from the financial support of an average of USD 3,000, provided in two tranches. New business owners receive LSE from psychosocial workers and Business skills training from livelihood technicians. When specific additional peer-to-peer training is needed, Action Against Hunger mobilizes local affirmed business owners to address further skills gaps of new colleagues. An accurate mix of livelihoods and psychosocial support enhances the new start-ups’ impact and sustainability.
1Enhancing recovery and resilience of crisis-affected populations, through integrated multi-sectoral programming in Iraq financed by USAID/BHA
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