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How one refugee found her sweet calling

Yasmin Muhammad Ali making pastries in her bakery in Dohuk, Iraq. Photo: Noor Tahir/Oxfam

With start-up money from Oxfam and a group savings pot, Yasmin Muhammad Ali started her own bakery business.

Yasmin Muhammad Ali is a Syrian refugee who has been living in Dohuk, Iraq, for six years.

“When we first arrived here, our financial condition wasn’t good,” she says. “I had to work because we needed income, especially because I have a disabled child in constant need of medication.”

Ali, a mother of three, secured a job in a pastry factory. That job built on her hobby back in Syria: making dessert. She used to help her brother make mushabak, a traditional Syrian dessert of fried dough dunked in syrup.

“I loved working in the factory, and I always imagined myself with my own business as a baker,” she says.

Living in a traditional society, Ali wasn't sure that she would have a chance to live out her dream. “I used to ask myself how it would possible to have my own business as a woman,” she remembers.

A fresh batch of Ali's mushabak. Photo: Noor Tahir/Oxfam

One day, she was approached by her manager and asked if she wanted to start her own business. Ali saw it as an opportunity to cut down her long hours at the factory. She joined an Oxfam savings group with four other women, which helped her save money to build her bakery from the ground up.

Every 15 days, each woman contributed $100 to the group saving pot. Then, on the 15th day, Ali says, one of the members would receive $500 from the group, which would be matched by $500 from Oxfam. Ali spent her share on ingredients and equipment, and used the remainder to take care of her family.

“This project helped me to make more friends who supported me a lot in the beginning,” she says. “Whenever someone learns about a person who needs some pastry or dessert, they send them my way," she says. "I do the same as well. When I need to buy food, I go to the market that one of [women] opened with this project.”

Ali smiles as she reflects on her entrepreneurial journey. “I still can’t believe that my dream came true.”

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