Mohammed T. knew that one day the call would come. But when a neighbour phoned to tell him that ISIS had destroyed his restaurant in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, he was still devastated.
The American style dishes that helped to make Café A1 popular among students and young professionals, also made it a likely target for destruction when ISIS seized control of Mosul in June 2014. Mohammed and his family were among the approximately 500,000 people who fled the city and district around it within only two weeks.
“Right after ISIS entered the city, I knew I had no choice but to flee. It was a difficult day,” he recalls.
Although he lost everything he had invested in his business, Mohammed says his love for his job and the needs of his community compelled him to return to Mosul to rebuild Café A1. But last year, COVID-19 cast the future of the business in doubt again. Lockdown measures forced Café A1 to stay closed from mid-March until June 2020 and Mohammed feared his business would have to shut down for good.
My biggest fear was I would not be able to sustain my family financially.
A relief loan from the NII’s COVID-19 SME Support Programme helped to cover Café A1’s working capital needs, rent, and salaries.
The loan helped my business survive,
Although evening curfews are still affecting restaurants in Mosul, Mohammed says the situation is much better now and Café A1 can continue to employ nine people, including three women.
Temira S. has been working as a receptionist at the restaurant for three years. She says the pandemic had a tremendous impact on her community and the job market in general. Temira’s job allows her to support her parents and three sisters, and she is grateful that she was able to stay employed despite the pandemic.
It means a lot to me. I stayed at home for two months and thought my career had ended.
A survey by humanitarian organisation REACH, conducted in the Markaz Mosul district in March 2021, found that the most commonly reported primary need in the community was access to livelihoods due to the lack of public and private sector job opportunities. It was also identified as the most needed intervention to encourage further returns of the over 251,000 people the United Nations say remain displaced from the area.
This means that in addition to reconstructing the city’s infrastructure and buildings; revitalising and sustaining small businesses like Café A1 will be just as crucial to rebuilding Mosul and the lives of its people.