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Forced to Close by COVID-19, This Iraqi Mother Hopes to Reopen Her Small Business

An Iraqi mother sits inside her small shop in Northern Iraq.

Khonaf Saido Abdullah, 54, living in Rwanga camp, Northern Iraq is a mother of seven children and a participant of CARE’s and Lotus Flower’s business incubator project. Photo: CARE/Lotus Flower

Khonaf Saido Abdullah, 54, living in Rwanga camp, Northern Iraq is a mother of seven children and a participant of CARE’s and Lotus Flower’s business incubator project. Photo: CARE/Lotus Flower

Khonaf dreams of returning to work so she can continue to provide support for her children's education.

Khonaf Saido Abdullah is 54-year-old Yazidi mother of seven from Sinjar, Iraq where she was living with her young children and disabled husband in a small rental property. They worked as farm laborers to get a small income, but she still did not have enough money to be able to send any of her children to school.

On August 3, 2014, ISIS attacked Khonaf’s village and she was forced to run away with her children and husband. “I saw a lot of people being killed on the streets and many left their parents and children because they couldn’t look after them anymore,” she says.

Khonaf and her family fled to the nearby Sinjar mountains where they struggled to find food and water. Despite having a large number of children and a disabled husband Khonaf refused to leave anyone behind, and single-handedly carried three of her children to safety. “Poverty taught me to be strong!” she says.

“I will die if I lose this daughter as I lost the first one.”

Khonaf and her family eventually sought shelter in Rwanga displacement camp in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. But, despite being safe, life in the camp remained very hard for Khonaf and she depended on donations from her neighbors to survive.

While living in Rwanga Khonaf’s eldest daughter got married. But just one year after marriage, she tragically took her own life as a result of the relentless violence she suffered at her husband’s hands. This left Khonaf heartbroken and depressed. Withdrawn and unable to socialize with others, she even sought medical help.

Khonaf was one of the women chosen to be part of the women business incubator project run by CARE Iraq. Through this project Khonaf finally got the chance to receive counseling from a psychologist through CARE’s partners The Lotus Flower, as well as business advice and support to set up her own shop.

“A lot has been changed in my life and I feel better psychologically, and I feel very happy to see my kids can have food and clothes they need,” says Khonaf.

She adds, “I always wanted to have a job to get income for my family, so I no longer seek help from other people.”

She remembers the first customer to her shop who was a child coming to buy a cake. “It was a very happy moment and I felt very proud of myself .”

With the money Khonaf has been able to provide for her family, help her husband get the treatment he needs and send her children to school for the first time. It has also helped increase the respect she gets from her husband, and from her wider community.

“I feel stronger than before and realized that I can also be a lifesaver for my kids and there is no difference between men and women,” she says.

Khonaf Saido Abdullah, 54, living in Rwanga camp, Northern Iraq sits in her shop made of metal siding and an exposed concrete foundation with many unsold items she still has in stock after her shop was forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo: CARE/Lotus Flower

With the lockdown and curfews enforced as a result of the coronavirus, Khonaf, like many other business owners, was forced to shut her shop. She has incurred large debts restocking products that had expired during the lockdown.

Khonfa’s second daughter also has felt the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns. She was seriously beaten by her husband and was forced to run away back to her mother’s home.

Khonfa says, “This shop is very important for me, more now than ever, because I need money to help my daughter sue her husband who beat her very badly and married a second wife. My daughter has no milk to feed her son, I have to save and protect my children…I will die if I lose this daughter as I lost the first one.”

Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) of 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence, while a 2012 Planning Ministry study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands.

According to reports published by UN Women, there is a rapid increase in domestic violence in Iraq during coronavirus lockdown. Internally displaced people and refugees are among the communities with the highest levels of domestic violence, especially against women, girls and children.

Khonaf dreams of refreshing her business’ stock and being able to reopen which would allow her to provide her children with everything they need to continue their education. Just as she carried on climbing in the Sinjar mountains, Khonaf continues to carry the future of her children, the hope for their family, and the strength it takes to overcome all odds.

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