Entrepreneurship in a refugee camp

Because the vast majority of the world’s refugees will remain in the country where they first fled for years or even decades, it’s important to establish true communities that include opportunities for self-sufficiency. Realization of that goal creates ventures in unexpected places driven by unlikely people.

Amneh Yakum Abbakah, a 40-year-old grandmother and resident of the Djabal refugee camp, has become a successful entrepreneur. Amneh has been living in this camp in Eastern Chad since it opened a decade ago to absorb the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Darfur. Narrowly escaping a ruinous invasion of her home village, she, her husband, and five children fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Refugee camps save lives but day-to-day living is a struggle and their semi-permanent transience can leave people feeling they have no purpose. A solution to both is a livelihoods training program HIAS offers to refugee women in 12 camps across eastern Chad. Participants like Amneh learn a craft and are trained to start a business. Amneh learned to weave and soon began taking the baskets and mats she made to the market. As advised, each time she came back with some extra money she put it back into her business. 

Soon Amneh had saved enough to open her own shop, where best-sellers include sugar, tea, and millet. She is now able to supplement her family’s meager food rations and get special additional things, like spices.

“Before we did not have enough food, but now we have plenty," Amneh says. "I can visit someone’s home and not show up empty-handed. When someone in the community suffers a loss, I can come and bring something to help.

Beaming, she adds, “I am thankful for the program. It has helped me and the other women live again. Having skills gives us a new life.