By Megha Merani
Eight battled against all odds and despite all culture barriers, family commitments, and the intensity of the training to completed the course
Eight determined Iraqi war widows received Arabian Business Achievement Awards in honour and recognition of their fighting spirit, their entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to pass on knowledge to others.
Amid a standing ovation from the audience, the eight - Sahar Abdulussein, Hiyam Chekhaw, Noor Hashim, Lamyaa Ibrahim, Forat Maezel, Intisar Neamah, Nazhat Salman and Rasha Shuhaib – accepted their awards from ITP Media Group CEO Ali Akawi.
In 2015, US-based non-profit Prosperity Catalyst launched a candle-making enterprise to empower vulnerable Iraqi women who were casualties of the nation’s brutal war that took their husbands and their livelihoods. The group of women was selected to receive candle making training, in order to train a larger group of women.
Iraq’s gruelling more than three-year war with ISIL has fractured the country’s economy and infrastructure. The destruction and uncertain security environment has profoundly impacted all aspects of daily life, especially for women - not only in the territories seized by ISIL - but across all regions, including Baghdad where Prosperity Catalyst’s candle making program takes place.
Non-profit humanitarian agency Relief International estimates that over 1.5 million women - almost 10 percent of all women in the country - are widowed and that 56 percent of these widows are living in poverty and are unable to meet their monthly household needs.
But against all odds and despite all culture barriers, family commitments, and the intensity of the training over a short period of time, the eight women, who have varying education levels and social statuses, rose to the challenge and completed the course.
Noor Hashim, who spoke on behalf of the candle-makers, poignantly said the work of the women wasn’t just income for them but also a way to show the world a different and unseen side of her war torn homeland and its people.
“Thank you for including us here to share with you our feelings about these beautiful women,” Hashim said.
“We are women from Iraq and we capture the beauty of Iraq to serve your eyes [in a] unique and modern way.”
To date, they have already passed their knowledge on to another 125 women in Baghdad and also supported the production of more than 15,000 Akkadian Candle collection pieces, made in Iraq and sold in the US.
Hashim proudly added: “Every single piece of my land is charming. Every single piece is outstanding there...these women, even the small blocks (of candles), clothes, our food, (and) even (our) people are unique and original.”
The high-end and unique Iraqi candle collection is inspired by ancient culture in the region. The name Akkadian comes from Akkad, a city in Ancient Mesopotamia. The expanse includes parts of Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Through participation in several tradeshows in major U.S cities in 2015 and 2016, the program has generated more than $138,000 in sales, which the organization says has increased the average income of it participants by 60 per cent.
Boston-headquartered Prosperity Catalyst creates business opportunities for vulnerable women in distressed regions of the world to thrive and become catalysts of social and economic change. Despite obstacles such as delayed shipments and complex ordering processes, the project has grown to include vulnerable women all over Iraq, including war widows, internally displaced women fleeing ISIL, and religious minorities.
Mammoth portions of the country remain devastated because of damage inflicted by ISIL and in subsequent fighting against insurgents. According to World Bank estimates, about $88 billion is needed for reconstruction in Iraq.