Refugee Women Get a Taste of Starting a Business

03 March, 2018

When refugees arrive in a new country, they bring few possessions. But many bring something more valuable: their skills.

Recently, twenty refugee women and asylum seekers met at a pop-up store in Phoenix, the largest city in the American state of Arizona. They came together to show their handmade products and exchange stories.

"I am from Iraq," said Nada Alrubaye. "I was an art teacher and I had two boys. One, my young boy, was killed in Baghdad. I decided to go to Turkey with another son because I wanted to protect him. After that, I came to Arizona."

Rodain Abo Zeed also spoke at the meeting. "I escaped from Syria," she said, "when the war started because there was no safety and no opportunities for my kids to continue their education, and because my husband's restaurant got burned down to ashes."

Another refugee, Tahmina Besmal, told the gathering "We escaped from Afghanistan, me, my mom and two sisters because of safety and there was no opportunities for ladies to go to school, to do a job, to be independent."

Details of the trips and the countries may be different, but their stories are similar.

More than 20 refugee women left sadness and often tragic pasts behind. They all were given a chance to sell homemade products at this donated space in Phoenix.

A group of social work students at Arizona State University created the Global Market pop-up store to help these women earn money.

The Global Market Project involved local non-profit groups at Arizona State, said Alyaa Al-Maadeed, one of the students.

The American Muslim Women's Association (AMWA) was one of the groups supporting the project.

"Last year, we started a new beginning skill training program for refugee women, said Asna Masood, the group's president. She added that the women are taught how to sew and then helped to sell their products in the community.

Among the products for sale were paintings, jewelry, soap, and handicraft arts.

Nada Alrubaye says she likes the market because she can sell paintings, jewelry or other possessions that were in her home. "I am happy with this shop," she said.

The store was only open in February, but organizers are already thinking about the future.

"The goal of the project is not only to bring these women short-term income. We want to really provide them with the experience to learn how to run their own businesses and learn how to be entrepreneurs," said Megan McDermott, an Arizona State student.

Iraqi refugee Tara Albarazanchi sold her homemade soaps and body care products at the market.

"This pop-up gives me the experience of working in a shop, dealing with people (and) dealing with cash," she said, adding that she is also learning about record-keeping.

The organizers hope visitors to the store also learned new things – hopefully about the lives of refugees in their community.

I'm Susan Shand.

June Soh reported this story for VOA. Susan Shand adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

pop-upadj. a short rental opportunity

opportunity – n. a possibility; a chance

sew v. to make or repair something (such as a piece of clothing)

handicraftsn. an object made by skillful use of your hands — usually plural

shopn. a business; a place with products for sale

incomen. money that is earning; earnings

entrepreneur – n. one who sets up and operates a business