Business Options Equal Hope for Grieving Refugees

By the time Shireen and her five children reached her relative’s house in Baghdad, she was bone-tired. The kind of tired you don’t soon recover from. The kind of tired that makes you cry in the middle of a sentence.

Shireen was traumatized.

A series of unfortunate events most of us can’t even imagine unfolded before her weary eyes.

Before ISIS came to town she’d worked hard for years to feed her family. She set up shop in her home, making bread for neighbors, working as a seamstress making curtains and whatever side jobs she could think of until ISIS shut her down.

She had to sell her husband’s farm for a tenth of its value to get money for the smugglers. She had to sell the gold ring that was supposed to provide for her when she is old. She’d lost her husband and her parents.

Facing the world alone with five children, she feared for her health.

She wanted to be strong for her children so they wouldn’t worry. She wasn’t able to leave her house under ISIS rule. Now she would carry all the responsibility alone; make all the decisions alone.

Shireen missed her husband, she missed living a good life with him. She missed having options.

A widowed mom—poor, parentless and displaced—she packed into a smuggler’s car at 4am on the run from ISIS for seventeen hours across the desert with her little ones.

They’d all survived, but she was tired.

In Baghdad, Shireen and her children were safe, but she faced the same hardscrabble life without any of the comforts she had known in her own home and community. She needed to feed her family, pay the rent, cover her children’s school expenses, and despite working hard she couldn’t find a job.

She did what she had always done to provide for her children—she looked at what meager resources she had and went to work. Shireen started making bread at home once again, to sell to neighbors.

She introduced herself to seamstresses in the city, to forge potential partnerships. She worked with a seamstress near their home, then later with a seamstress who had a shop in the city’s busy market. She borrowed a sewing machine from a neighbor and worked as hard as she could in every moment she wasn’t needed by her children.

She was scraping by, but she was still exhausted. Grieving.

That’s when we met Shireen.

She quickly proved herself to be intelligent and skilled, talented and motivated to do well. She just needed a little bit of support.

You provided Shireen with a sewing machine of her own, a sewing table, some fabric and other basics she had been doing without. You provided someone to visit from time to time, to see how she was doing with her business—someone who listened, and encouraged and wasn’t afraid of the inevitable tears that came with every meeting.

Shireen has taken your investment in her business–in her life–and made the very most of it.

We recently visited the shop she shares with another seamstress, to check in.

Located on a busy Baghdad street the shop is brightly lit by a big storefront window. Her sewing table is set up so she can greet customers as they enter while taking advantage of the natural light.

Shireen showed us her current client orders in-progress: custom dresses, girls’ school uniforms, and 15 customized aprons for a local restaurant. When she’s saved enough she plans to add shelving and a proper changing room.

Dreams for improvement are a sign of  hope restored.

Shireen also dreams for her children’s future. Her hometown was liberated from ISIS in September. Despite all that’s happened, there’s no place like home. She longs for home yet values what she’s has gained by living in Baghdad—more opportunities for her children and social freedom for herself.

Instead of choosing one place over the other, Shireen will have a presence in both places. She plans to open a second shop in her house back home and offer Baghdad’s unique dress designs to her old neighbors.

There was lightness and laughter during our visit. Shireen is radiant with hope.

Nothing about her past had changed—nothing could change. But now Shireen has caught her breath. She’s an empowered woman with options.

Our partner noted that this was the first visit that Shireen didn’t cry.

“Well, it’s because I’m happy! I’m really happy with my work and God willing it’s just going to get better and better and better.”

Options equal hope. Thank you for providing Shireen with options.