Iraq: vulnerable people gain financial independence with ICRC assistance

01-12-2010 Feature

Among the beneficiaries of ICRC activities in Iraq are women who head households, disabled people and displaced people, who have great difficulty earning a living and supporting their families. The organization’s livelihood-support projects supply them with fertiliser, seed, goats, sheep, livestock vaccines and fodder to enable them to work and regain financial independence.

Mohamed the honey seller

Mohamed, the honey seller  

© ICRC / M. Greub / iq-e-00848

Mohamed Rasoul lost an arm and an eye in 2003 as a result of a landmine explosion. He is one of the beneficiaries of a programme launched by the ICRC in Iraq to help vulnerable people generate revenues.

Mohamed, 47, lives in a partly destroyed army shelter in Bamarni, Dohuk. He has seven children, all under sixteen.

Mohammed still recalls the day when his life was turned upside down in a horrific explosion, a day he will never forget. He worked as an expert at the de-mining unit, under the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters). One day, in 2003, he was trying to lift an old mine when it exploded. "I felt as if my life had ended on that day," he says.

Mohamed was the sole breadwinner of his large family. Following the accident, his modest pension fell far short of his family’s needs. Then in 2009, the ICRC assisted Mohamed by providing him with six beehives to start a small business and help increase his income.

By last September, his honey production was expected to rise to 60 kilos. "I am so thankful to the ICRC for making a dream come true", said a jubilant Mohamed. "This will, God willing, generate more income for the upkeep of my children," he concluded.

Abdul Razak, the phone-card vendor

Abdul Razak, the phone-card vendor  

© ICRC / M. Greub / iq-e-00862.jpg

In 1988, Abdul-Razzaq Mustafa Othman, who was 17 at the time, lost both of his legs in a mine explosion in the Haj Omran area, north of Erbil. The accident left him disabled at the prime of his youth, wiping away all his hopes and dreams for a prosperous life.

Despite his anguish, Abdul-Razzaq neither gave in to the limitations imposed on him by his disability nor wallowed in self-pity.

In 1996 he got married and began to work in the market, where he juggled several jobs to make ends meet.

At the beginning of 2010, Abdul-Razzaq paid a visit to the ICRC-run orthopedic centre in Erbil to receive artificial limbs and crutches. These later became vital in his day-to-day activities. At the centre, he was informed that the ICRC was running a programme to help vulnerable breadwinners improve their income. He was fortunate in that the ICRC provided him with support, in April 2010,, for his project of selling pre-paid mobile calling cards in Erbil market.

Abdul Razzaq has a diabetic nine-year-old daughter who requires medication on a daily basis. "With your help, my income increased. Now I am able to buy medicine for my beloved daughter. I I feel truly fortunate," he told the ICRC.

Kawani, the poultry vendor

Kawani, the poultry vendor  

© ICRC / M. Greub / iq-e-00850.jpg

Kawani Hama Saleh Aziz was a taxi driver. In 2001, he lost his left leg in a car accident on the Erbil-Makhmour highway.

It was hard for Kawani to see himself stuck in a wheelchair, after being an energetic person who never rested, not to mention the large family he that depended on him.

Four months after losing his leg, he visited the ICRC's orthopedic centre in Erbil, where he finally got an artificial leg and was able to walk unassisted.

Kawani is now able to make a good living, thanks to the support he received for his poultry project from the ICRC through its income-generating programme. He started receiving the support in June 2010. "In fifteen days, I managed to make some good money", Kawani says with a big smile. "I felt blessed", he adds.

Kawani's sixteen-year-old son lends him a hand at the shop every day. While the ICRC field delegate was at Kawani's poultry shop, seven customers stopped by to purchase poultry. They all expressed their delight at ICRC assistance's to Kawani, which was a turning point in his life.

Dejla the hairdresser

Women looking after their families alone are amongst the most vulnerable groups. Thousands of Iraqi families live in poverty because their male breadwinners have been killed, are detained or missing. In a society where women are not brought up to assume responsibility for the family’s income, many households headed by women have no independent income and rely on relatives and charity. Finding a job is difficult and many needy families are unable to obtain state support. The ICRC is responding by helping women set up small businesses such as beauty salons and grocery shops. The goal is to help women bringing up families on their own to work their way out of poverty and regain their self-respect.


Dejla the hairdresser  

© ICRC / M. Greub / iq-e-00913.jpg

In 2005, Dejla's husband of ten years died after a long illness. At the age of 43 she found herself alone with three daughters, the oldest of whom was only eight. The children’s father had been the sole breadwinner, and Dejla was totally unprepared for the challenge of earning a living.

Dejla's father-in-law came to their rescue. He let them live in a small house he owned and gave them some money, but it was nowhere near enough.

For a widow with three small children, finding a job was next to impossible. But Dejla was determined to find a way of generating income.

The first glimmer of hope came in 2007, when a local non-governmental organization (NGO) in Najaf governorate distributed food provided by the ICRC as part of a Ramadan assistance programme.

Dejla says: "This was the first I'd heard of the ICRC. The food encouraged me to start my own small project so I could earn money for my family and not be dependent on other people."

Dejla came up with the idea of starting a hairdressing salon. To her delight, the ICRC agreed to fund her project. "The ICRC provided me with all the stuff I needed to make a new start for myself and my daughters," explains Dejla with a smile. "My house is now my place of work as well."

Things were difficult at first, especially before Dejla became well known, but now her salon is a hive of activity. And weddings and special events bring in extra business, because when a bride is getting ready for her wedding, it is Dejla and her daughters that she calls on for the finishing touches.

Not satisfied with setting up her own business, Dejla is now working with the NGO to train other women in a variety of skills, including hairdressing, so that they too can generate an income.

As well as giving Dejla her longed-for financial independence, the project has made her more self-confident and ended her isolation.

Shokriya the shepherdess

Shokriya the shepherdess  


Shokriya (60) used to grow crops in Al Mahmodiya, south of Baghdad. But the war and the violence that followed forced her to move to Najaf governorate. She and her family settled on a farm owned by the city council and had to take on various low-paid jobs.

Shokriya's husband had already died of cancer in 2002, leaving her with five children. The children had to take any work they could get, just to keep themselves and their mother alive.

When Shokriya first came into contact with the ICRC, in 2007, she had already been thinking of starting some kind of income-generating project and came up with the idea of buying a few sheep and using their products to generate income for her and her family. She made a proposal to the NGO, which in turn presented it to the ICRC.

After visiting Shokriya's house to assess the situation and see how to help her with the project, the ICRC provided six animals to get her started. Shokriya's persistence and hard work made the project a success; she looked after the sheep well, made good use of their milk and wool, and was able to sell two of their offspring. Her project has brought her independence and self-esteem.