The inspiring journey of Chawan: From disability to inclusion

The inspiring journey of Chawan: From disability to inclusion

On this Women’s Day, we bring to you the story of Chawan Muhammed, a 33-year-old from Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She serves as an inspiration to her peers as she continues to support her family while relentlessly pursuing her passions.
Article 08 March 2024 Iraq

Early life & challenges

Chawan has been coping with disability since the age of three, undergoing numerous surgeries and treatment journeys. Despite facing lower-body paralysis, she regained mobility through surgeries and the use of an orthosis. Nevertheless, her disability did not deter her from assisting her mother with household chores or supporting her father in running the family's stationary shop after returning from school.

Earlier in life, she had dreamt of becoming an art instructor due to her immense love for art. However, her disability became one of the main barriers that prevented her from pursuing this dream.

Avin Yasin Mohammad/ICRC

The beginning of a culinary journey

Despite holding a diploma in Computer Science, finding a job opportunity in the field proved challenging. Thus, at the age of 24, Chawan launched her cooking enterprise with her older sister, Hero, who is her role model and partner in the cooking project. "I have been in love with cooking ever since I was a child. My older sister, who is 14 years older than me, has been an inspiration. She has trained many people, including myself, to cook and become a good chef. I owe her."

The sisters started their business by cooking from home for clients upon request, utilizing social media platforms, as well as their network of friends and relatives, to advertise. They provided meals for schools, kindergartens, hospitals, and social occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and baby showers.

Chawan later worked as a chef in a private school, preparing daily meals for more than 850 students over four years.

In the last quarter of 2023, the ICRC-run Physical Rehabilitation Center (PRC) in Erbil sought a cafeteria chef and celebrated the official opening of the cafeteria in November 2023, with Chawan earning the position.

Culinary expertise

Chawan prepares a range of local dishes, including rice with soup, biryani, kofta, burger, and dolma, ensuring to serve healthy, nutrient-dense meals covering all essential food groups.

"She is a very nice person, and her meals are exceptional, especially her dolma," says one of her customers, an ICRC staff member.

"I am inspired by her passion for cooking and fueled by her dedication to inclusivity. Chawan crafts culturally appropriate meals that meet expectations. Her culinary talent, combined with her perseverance, serves as a testament to the power of determination in the face of adversity," states another customer.

This opportunity paved the way for Chawan to obtain a cooking license, enabling her to present her services to a wider audience through food delivery applications.

Extending love & support

The cafeteria business in Erbil PRC not only provided Chawan with a sustainable job but also allowed her to secure job opportunities for her friend, who is also a person with a disability, and her husband to assist her.

"My husband has always been supportive of me. When I started my work in the ICRC's PRC cafeteria, I needed a helping hand, and now he works with me, mainly in cleaning duties."

Chawan has been married since 2020, and her husband used to work as domestic staff in one of the local hospitals in Erbil. "It was love at first sight." The couple is now happily married and has a 2-year-old daughter, Maily.

Social inclusion & people with disabilities

People with disabilities not only contend with the physical limitations imposed by their condition but also encounter barriers that hinder their access to various opportunities, force them to abandon their aspirations, and isolate them from social engagements. Recognizing these multifaceted challenges, it is integral to the ICRC's mission to empower individuals with disabilities. Beyond facilitating physical rehabilitation services, the ICRC is committed to fostering inclusivity by offering avenues for their integration into society. This includes initiatives such as creating employment opportunities, providing financial assistance through cash grants for micro-economic projects, and extending support for Paralympic activities. By addressing these broader societal barriers, the ICRC aims to enable individuals with disabilities to lead fulfilling lives and realize their full potential.

Avin Yasin Mohammad/ICRC

Key statistics 1996-2024

  • The Erbil physical rehabilitation centre provided physical rehabilitation services to 17,995 people, including more than 8,651 amputees out of which more than 60% were amputated due to conflict-related cases, particularly mines victims.
  • The Erbil physical rehabilitation centre provided a total of 15,243 prostheses, 13,974 orthoses, 2,986 wheelchairs, and 10,483 walking aids along with performing repairs and adjustments for the delivered mobility aids and devices.
  • The ICRC currently supports three physical rehabilitation centres in Iraq, in: Erbil (ICRC-run PRC), Nasiriya and Baghdad (state-run PRCs supported by the ICRC).