Christian entrepreneurs work to resurrect Bakhdida
They first heard the mortars in the early morning. Karam’s mother was worried – but after half an hour the shelling stopped. He was on his way to the market to buy bread when his father called. “He told me to come home as fast as I can. On my way there I saw a car filled with bodies of children. When I got home, they told me a mortar hit our neighbors’ house. It killed a woman and three children.”
Karam and his family knew they had to flee their home in Bakhdida, a town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plains. He says he was lucky to have a summer house, about 100km to the east in Akre. The five-hour wait in the hot car to get past a checkpoint was hardest on his elderly father. It took the family more than eight hours to reach Akre. “The next morning my uncle arrived. He told us that everything was gone. ISIS had taken the city. We lost everything. We have only memories.”
According to the Ninewa Reconstruction Committee, ISIS damaged and looted over 7000 homes in Bakhdida. Once Iraq’s largest Christian community – one of the minority groups targeted by ISIS – the group left behind only a shell of the town Karam remembers. His successful coffee shop in the city was destroyed and his plans to start a new manufacturing business with his brothers and a friend were put to an abrupt end.
Karam started his professional career in 2003 when he worked as a journalist for a local newspaper while studying in Mosul. When Al Qaeda began threatening and killing both journalists and Christians, Karam was in danger on both counts. Yet, he was determined to complete his studies and graduated in 2008. “I am always looking to develop myself through self-education. Graduating from college was important – even if it was risky. Education is the weapon that helps you face risk in the future.”
In the following years, he worked in the aviation security industry and then as a teacher at an international school before starting his coffee house. Karam says he learned valuable lessons from each job he did. “I learned how to lead a team, manage processes, solve conflict and to work on deadline and under pressure.”
Now, more than five years since the morning his family were forced from their home, Karam and his three business partners are reviving their plans. His coffee house has been refurbished and is operating again but he wants to do even more to help rebuild Bakhdida, his community.
Karam is currently undergoing screening to receive financing from Northern Iraq Investments (NII) to establish a factory to produce facial tissues. “We are trying to change the local market from merely trading to rebuilding industry. We want to attract investment into the area again.”
Karam also wants the new factory to bring new jobs to Bakhdida. “There is a shortage of jobs in my city and establishing a factory that will provide tens of jobs is a big motivation.” The business is projected to create 23 new jobs, including 14 jobs for unskilled or semi-skilled workers.
The partners hope to combine their own capital and the financing they have applied to secure a lease, purchase raw materials, vehicles and the equipment needed to set up the factory’s first production line. Poor infrastructure like roads, electricity and a lack of skilled workers remains challenging, but the partners believe demand in the region is great enough that they will ultimately be able to establish four production facilities and to expand their product range. None of their current competitors are based in Nineveh province.
Karam believes teamwork will be key for them to succeed and sees the partnership as a source of strength for the business. “We complement each other. The business will require a lot of effort, time and relationships. Four people are better than only one and four opinions are wiser than one.”
Should their business be approved to receive financing through NII, Karam and his partners will also benefit from continuous business support and advice from GroFin to help them establish a sustainable business and rebuild their city, and their lives.