From illiteracy to financial literacy: Karima can now provide for her children and “keep dignity”

Shell beneficiary Karima
Benefiting from UNDP and Shell’s livelihoods project, widowed Karima now owns a minimarket in Al Nashwa sub-district of Basra. Photo: Farah Sayegh/UNDP Iraq/2016

Basra, 8 November 2016- Widowed at an early age, raising five children including a disabled son is a tough struggle for an illiterate woman. Now a proud owner of the only minimarket in her neighbourhood, 40-year-old Karima is able to sustain her family.

Highlights

  • "With the income I have, I am now able to prioritize my son’s health, take him to the doctor and even manage to buy him medication,” said Karima
  • Thousands of women in Basra are faced with the same challenges as Karima, bearing the brunt of war and forced to become their family’s sole breadwinner
  • One of the pillars of the UNDP-Shell Partnership is social inclusion and ensuring that the most vulnerable and marginalized groups are reached

In the sub-district of Al Nashwa in Basra, South of Iraq, Karima has faced immense challenges maintaining her family. Losing her husband, the family’s only breadwinner, to war, has left Karima struggling to provide even the most basic needs for her family. Relying solely on assistance from relatives and other families was not easy for her to accept, nor was it sustainable for her family.

Over one year ago, and through her community leader, Karima heard about vocational trainings and support for micro businesses planned to take place in Al Nashwa. She was determined that this opportunity was her family’s lifeline and immediately expressed interest and registered for the trainings.

“I can’t read or write, so I was in desperate need to gain skills in order to make money and take care of my children,” said Karima.

This was when Karima became an active member of UNDP and Shell’s Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise and Vocational Training Programme (MSME/VT). 

Offered through the UNDP-Shell Partnership that was launched in 2012, the MSME/VT livelihoods project aims at building the capacity of the local workforce by equipping men, women and youth in Iraq with ‘hard’ skills and financial and non-financial support to small and medium enterprises.

The UNDP-Shell Partnership supports participatory planning and local area development, and focuses on high quality vocational trainings for the communities of Al Nashwa and Al Dair sub-districts near the Majnoon Oil Field in Basra. With an objective to enhance the local economy, the Partnership created employment opportunities, and contributed to capacity development and transfer of skills.

The training workshops took place over a period of two months. Women were trained in financial literacy, managing budgets, and calculating profit. They were further familiarized with local markets to sustain small scale businesses. 

Through training, Karima and other women were supported to initiate their businesses. Karima received an initial sum of money, the space, and a refrigerator for her minimarket. She learned to purchase items by bulk at a cheaper price, and now sets aside a percentage of her profit to purchase new products.

For the past year, Karima has been successfully running her business. On average, she generates a monthly income equivalent to US$100.

“I always felt like I was less than others because my whole family was dependent on the generosity of people. The money I make might not seem like a lot, but at least I can provide for my children and home whilst keeping my dignity.”

Providing vulnerable communities with the skills and support required for income generation does not only alleviate financial pressures; it also allows for basic needs to be met, such as access to education, health care, and proper nutrition. 

“My only son was born with paralysis. He cannot walk. After my husband’s death, I rarely took him to a doctor because there are always expenses involved and I felt terrible asking relatives for money. With the income I have, I am now able to prioritize my son’s health, take him to the doctor and even manage to buy him medication.”

One of the pillars of the UNDP-Shell Partnership is social inclusion and ensuring that the most vulnerable and marginalized groups are reached. A gender-balanced participatory approach is also at the heart of the Partnership’s activities of local development and poverty alleviation.

Thousands of women in Basra are faced with the same challenges as Karima, bearing the brunt of war and forced to become their family’s sole breadwinner. In vulnerable communities in Basra, illiteracy rates are high especially amongst women. With livelihoods programmes, women like Karima become equipped with essential skills for the labour force and are also granted employment opportunities that enable them to generate income, be productive agents in their community, and pass their skills to a future generation to gradually eliminate the cycle of poverty.

 

Text and photo by Farah Sayegh/UNDP Iraq

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