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UNIDO entrepreneurship training gives Syrian refugees confidence boost

A group of Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are getting the confidence boost they need to secure the financial future of their families through a UNIDO entrepreneurship training programme.

When Nour Wahab first arrived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, after fleeing her hometown of Amude, Syria in 2013, she was scared in unfamiliar surroundings and painfully shy. It took her several years to settle into her new home in a refugee camp in Akre.

Three years ago, she began to design and make traditional Kurdish dresses for herself, returning to a hobby she had dabbled in when living in Syria. Other women saw Khalil wearing her designs and asked her to make dresses for them. Slowly, she developed a business that grew by word of mouth.

To take her business to another level, Khalil enrolled in the UNIDO training programme, where she has blossomed. “The main thing that was useful for me was to talk to people, to not be shy,” the 33-year-old explained. “I have problems to even greet or talk to people from my extended family. I was shy. But this training taught me how to be confident and assertive.”

In the training, she is putting together a business plan, designing logos, planning a marketing strategy, and creating a budget. She’s also making friendships that will last after the training is finished. “Now, I had the chance to sit and talk with others, and we became good friends,” she said.

Ten days into the 15-day training programme, the classroom is a noisy, bustling space as the 15 participants ranging in age from their early 20s to mid 50s talk and laugh during a coffee break. The atmosphere was very different in the first couple of days, explained Rizgar Taha, the UNIDO trainer.

“I noticed that from the first day, they were shy, they avoided eye contact,” he said. As refugees, uprooted from their homes, living in a strange place, watching conflict unfold back home and uncertain about their future, they had lost confidence, he explained. Rebuilding that confidence is a key part of the programme.

In his hometown of Hasaka, Syria, Hamed Hashim worked as a day labourer, getting whatever work he could on construction sites and in farmers’ fields. Eight years ago, he fled Syria and came to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as a refugee.

In Akre, the 32-year-old father of four again picked up work as a day labourer. He was able to get regular work with an electrician and learned the trade. He is now self-employed, doing the wiring in private homes, and he wants to grow his business, take on bigger projects and hire employees. To do that, he needs help. “I’m currently working only by myself and sometimes I hire one or two people. But to expand, I need to learn how to manage employees,” he said.

He is getting that help at the UNIDO training programme.

“The main thing that I learned here is how to respect others, how to market my business to others, and how to set a target for myself and plan for it,” said Hamed. “I have confidence in myself and Inshallah the business will grow.”

With his new-found confidence, the refugee who used to be a day labourer now dreams of a future where his children will become doctors or lawyers. “I started a new life here. People know me and appreciate my work., he said.

The programme, funded by the Austrian Development Agency, includes training in analyzing their personal skills, assessing market needs, developing strategies to reach targets, and financial management. The goal is for the participants to be able to run their own small business. At the end of the programme, they will also receive some financial assistance to purchase equipment or supplies for their existing or new businesses.