By Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry
Every once in a while, we find a story that embodies the triumph of the human spirit, the successful achievement against all odds, the individual passion for a better life that transcends all the noise from the digital, technology, blogosphere just mano-a-mano against the darkness and the sadness. In this case, the manos are two women refugees whose stories give us all a moment to pause and consider our many blessings, particularly at this time of year.
Iraqi native Inas Khammi, 28, arrived in San Diego on Sept. 29, 2010. Speaking through an interpreter, she said her Chaldean Catholic family fled Iraq because of kidnapping threats due to their religion. In the U.S., she was eligible for $345 a month in cash assistance for eight months. Wanting to earn her own money, she looked at becoming a child-care provider to serve families in her community since she didn’t speak English.
Her case manager told her about the WE Center for STAR Women, a partnership of Women’s Empowerment International and the International Rescue Committee in San Diego that provides services to refugee and poor women who want to start or expand an existing business.
Lubna Saleem, a microenterprise business counselor whose salary is paid by WE, arranged for Khammi to attend child-care training in El Cajon, where she lives, in Arabic, and also helped her complete the application and coordinated the analyst home visit.
The STAR program also provided business management training and a $2,000 loan at 7.25 percent interest repayable over a two-year period so that Khammi could buy appropriate furniture and supplies. Khammi is current on her loan payments.
Today, Khammi’s child-care business has a gross monthly revenue of $6,000. Her husband, Waad Gorges, (they met shortly after her arrival in San Diego) is proud that his pregnant wife is earning more money than he is. After their baby is born, they are planning to rent a bigger house and expand the day-care center. At that point, she will be eligible for another $15,000 loan. I am much happier because we can buy what we want and have a comfortable life, said Khammi.
Another inspiring story is that is STAR Fashion, a small shop owned by another refugee woman, Fowsia Osman from Somalia. She sells scarves and shawls, jewelry and Somali garb.
Osman arrived in San Diego in 1998 when she was pregnant with her oldest son. Now a single mom, she has three sons ages 13, 11 and 6. Through IRC, she learned English and attended child development classes, which allowed her to get a job with Head Start, where she worked for eight years. By 2007, she had saved $5,000, and with a $5,000 loan (which she has since repaid) and business assistance from STAR, she was able to open her shop.
Women’s Empowerment International was started by two enterprising women Winifred Cox, who had retired as director of communications for the University of California San Diego, and Leigh Fenly, who had retired as the Quest section editor with The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Our goal is to help women build long-term sustainable businesses,said Cox. We call what we’re doing a business incubator because we’re giving them one-stop shopping from idea through launch through growth and expansion. And you can always come back if you have a problem. Since inception in 2003, the WE organization, which has more than 700 members and supporters, has raised $540,000.
Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry, who invest in early-stage technology companies, write this column about entrepreneurship in San Diego. Please email ideas to Barbara at email@example.com
This story was published Dec. 21, 2011 online at: SIGN ON SanDiego – www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/dec/21/refugees-share-inspiring-success-stories/