Rebuilding Livelihoods in Post-War Iraq

Published: Apr 5, 2024 Reading time: 7 minutes
Rebuilding Livelihoods in Post-War Iraq
© Foto: People in Need

The devastating conflict that affected Iraq during the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’s presence caused significant displacement and destruction. Families in many areas of Iraq had to abandon their homes, livelihoods, and communities to seek refuge in safer areas. Beiji, a once vibrant and bustling city, was left destroyed, with about 80% of its infrastructure in ruins. With funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),the support of Germany through the German Development Bank (KfW), and the support of Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ) we supported 128 individuals with training focusing on marketing, accounting and coaching; we also supplied small cash grants to stimulate the growth of their businesses.

At the height of the fighting, families from Beiji, 130 miles north of Baghdad, sought shelter in other areas, with Kirkuk being a prime destination for many of the displaced. However, persistent insecurity in the area retards the return of the population. The International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) latest data shows that only around 15% of Beiji’s population, approximately 31,530 individuals, have returned.

From Loss to Beauty

Among those returning is Safa, a 25-year-old woman who, with her family, fled to Kirkuk. Having lost her father, Safa became the sole breadwinner for her family of five. They returned to Beiji, after it was liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant (ISIL). Safa, passionate about makeup, had dreams of opening a beauty salon. With our support funding from UNDP, KfW and BMZ she received a business grant that enabled her to fulfil her dream. Within four months, she successfully established her beauty salon. 

“I have loved makeup since I was little; I used to practice on myself. All I had was one mirror and some tools,” says Safa. When she received our grant, she bought a new mirror, two chairs, a hair washer and some other tools for the salon.

“I used to do makeup for family and friends, but when I opened the salon, more people started noticing me. I put up a banner, and I have a brand now; I even promote my work on Instagram and Facebook,” she adds. Safa attended our coaching sessions and training on stimulating business growth where she learnt marketing and accounting. “Before opening this salon, I had a meagre income, and I wasn’t able to buy whatever I needed. I used to barely have one or two customers a month. However, now the income has increased a lot and I am thinking of buying more tools and developing my skills to explore modern styles.”

“We face challenges with electricity. I have a generator, but it doesn’t run all day. One time, I was applying makeup on a bride when the electricity went off before I could do her hair. I was very embarrassed that she left without a hairstyle,” Safa explains.

Her mother, proud of her daughter’s success and independence, sees the potential to break societal norms and involve more women in the workforce. “I feel pride when I hear people talking positively about my daughter. She is very kind and ambitious; whatever I say about her is not enough,” she says. Safa is also collaborating with shops that sell dresses to exchange services, in a step into a community-oriented approach.

Safa’s journey from displaced war survivor to a successful beauty shop owner takes us to a married couple from Beiji whose journey stems from a communal need to address water pollution in their neighbourhood. 

The need creates an opportunity

Aline and Athir, 22 and 23 years old, recognised the hardship faced by their community and thought about a drinking water purification project. “Beiji is poor, and people who live here have limited income and mostly rely on labour work,” Athir explains. Before this project, locals had to rent a car to travel a distance to buy drinkable water, incurring extra costs of around 6,000 Iraqi dinars (equivalent to $4.60).

“We learnt about this grant opportunity through Facebook and we decided to apply,” says Athir.

“The research was already conducted, and we knew that there were no competitors. But before this grant, we didn’t have any money.”

Aline attended our business training class, which taught them how to run and promote the project efficiently. Learning how to operate the machines struck as an obstacle to the small family as neither Aline nor Athir didn’t get a decent education. “An engineer from Baghdad visited and operated the machines in front of me and taught me how to use them, how to clean them and how to measure the water quality. Now, I can run everything on my own,” explains Athir. With certificates from the Ministry of Health, the couple have improved their community’s access to clean water.

“Before this project, my husband used to work as a daily labourer. We didn’t have a proper income. If he worked, we had money; if he didn’t, we had nothing,” says Aline. Thanks to our grant, Aline and Athir are now financially independent and able to secure their income and support their two children.

Through our training and coaching, the couple are promoting their work on social media. They even distributed water containers for free on the first two days of operations. “We are gaining more customers with time. Our good reputation is the key. Some people do not have the money to buy containers, so we give them for free so they can refill,” adds Athir.

“We are from this area, and we understand the hardship that people go through, and we want to support them.”

Athir talks about how he would like to expand his business with time. “I am thinking of starting a delivery service to start delivering water to the houses. We also need a machine to wash and sterilise the containers for reusing.”

“Any project that helps the community is a blessing from God,” Aline concludes.

From a crisis-induced displacement to a successful car maintenance shop owner

Following Hamad’s graduation as an accountant, he had to flee Beiji with his wife and his son. This was because of an eruption of ISIL attacks on the town. Hamad had to learn another occupation to feed his family, and so he immersed himself in the field of mechanics.

“I was working as an employee in another person’s shop, and I wanted to leave for another job as a daily labourer because the salary was not enough,” Hamad explains. “My boss back then convinced me not to focus on money but rather on experience, and I am glad I followed his advice.”

In 2016, Hamad decided to return to Beiji with his family and open a car maintenance shop. “I had little equipment, and I was doing everything manually. A simple task would take me a long time, and I was only able to work on one car at a time,” he explains.

He later applied for a grant from us to purchase technological items and essential tools. The grant not only provided him with new equipment but also insights into effective business management. “Because of the training I received from PIN, I learned about how to deal with my finances, how to advertise my workshop better against competitors and how to treat the customers,” he adds. We also explained the importance of workplace safety, of having a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in such work environments.

The impact of the grant was transformative for Hamad’s business. He invested in basics that were previously lacking, reducing the time required for each job and allowing him to work on two cars simultaneously, increasing both income and customer base. Despite facing electricity challenges, Hamad adapted, transitioning from manual to automatic processes. “I still need a balance for the cars. I am always trying to develop myself and buy a bigger garage,” he explains.

For a community-based approach, we equipped Hamad with two trainees who are working and learning in exchange for helping Hamad with his work. This approach benefits both trainees and employers.

Despite the challenges faced by the returnees who are slowly returning to their hometowns in Iraq, People in Need (PIN) Iraq, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)Germany through the German and Development Bank (KfW), and Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ) is supporting these communities to help them rebuild and recover.

Autor: Zaynab Mayladan, Regional Communications Manager for Iraq and Syria

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