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Meet one of Sacramento's Newest Enterpreneurs
Iraqi Refugee Finds Success Thanks to Opening Doors' Microenterprise Program
All refugees coming through Opening Doors bring with them a history filled with memories of the good, the bad, and even the horrifying times in their lives. If they are with Opening Doors, they are survivors, and survivors do not stand still waiting for good things to happen. They work to make them happen. Kamal is one such refugee. He came to Opening Doors for a small business loan. Along the way to qualifying, we learned his story.
As adults, Kamal and his siblings all worked as jewelers in Baghdad, a business they learned at the feet of their father and grandfather. Kamal also had an ongoing interest in auto sales, thanks to a cousin who would find cars and have Kamal sell them for him. Despite his business successes, decades of increasing political unrest and widespread violence made continuing to stay in Iraq increasingly dangerous. Kamal was eventually forced to flee Iraq in 2005 after finding himself the subject of threats. He initially travelled to Jordan in hopes of seeking asylum, but was refused admittance. He remained on the border between Jordan and Iraq for three days before trying again for Syria, a country where he would remain for 4 ½ years.
Kamal’s story is, unfortunately, not a singular one. The U.N. estimates that over 5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, and 1.5 million since 2006 alone, when sectarian violence increased after the bombing of the Samarra Mosque. The bombing killed thousands of Iraqi citizens and spurred a series of attacks on other mosques.
While Kamal dreamed of once again owning his own business, the Syrian government prohibited Iraqi refugees from working. Undaunted, Kamal turned his attentions to the local Iraqi refugee community. For the first two years in Syria, Kamal worked as the financial trust advisor for his religious group, which numbered over 1,200 refugees, and was later selected as their president. Having heard about the U.N.’s refugee resettlement program while still in Baghdad, Kamal immediately applied for refugee status upon arrival in Syria. After 4 ½ years of discussions with U.N. representatives, Kamal was finally approved to relocate in 2010. Although many Iraqi refugees were choosing to resettle in Australia or other Western nations, Kamal chose the United States because of the greater work opportunities available for refugees, a choice which inspired 513 of his community members to follow. Currently, none of Kamal’s family members remain in Iraq. His aunts, cousins, siblings, and even his daughter have resettled all over the world.
After arriving in the U.S., Opening Doors staff members listened to Kamal’s aspirations of once again owning a business and encouraged him to pursue them. With that support on offer, Kamal decided to put to good use the know-how gained from his work in auto sales and open his own dealership. He had some savings of his own, yet was in need of additional financing in order to purchase the used cars for his lot. Kamal applied for a bank loan, but was denied because, as an immigrant, he didn’t have a credit history.
Undaunted, Kamal came to Opening Doors in July 2011, where he applied for one of Opening Doors’ Prosperity Project loans. The Prosperity Projectprovides individualized business counseling and microloans in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 to qualified entrepreneurs looking to establish or improve small businesses. Many of our refugee clients are unable to receive funding through traditional sources, and find dealing with U.S. banks and doing business in the American marketplace a totally new experience. Over two months, our staff members, Muhamad and Ben, discussed with Kamal what it takes to start a business, the expenses he would encounter, interest rates, licensing, leasing a sales lot, and exactly how he would use Opening Doors loan funds. He also completed a cash flow projection that we reviewed to ensure all possible expenses were included. In mid-August he was approved for a loan. Kamal used the funding to purchase his initial auto inventory, and officially opened K.A.S. Auto Sales on September 1st on Silica Avenue in Sacramento.
At a recent site visit, it was clear that Kamal truly enjoys running his own used car business. He sees many potential customers on a daily basis, and the surrounding car dealerships are very supportive of him and his efforts. Kamal’s dealership is doing extremely well for a new business. In three months, he has bought and sold more than 20 cars and has even been able to employ a full-time salesman. Kamal’s business savvy and willingness to work hard, combined with Opening Doors’ assistance, has created an ideal situation for him to succeed and contribute to our area’s economy.
Kamal is enjoying his new life in the United States. He says that he and his family have had an easy time adjusting to living in Sacramento. Kamal appreciates American democracy and the opportunities he has found for work. He thanks Opening Doors for having helped him and other refugees and hopes to encourage other refugees to follow in his footsteps and open their own businesses. However, Kamal’s dreams have not ended with his car dealership. Thoughts of the jewelry business of his childhood have always remained with him. In a year or so, after his auto sales business has become stronger and he has saved up the money necessary, Kamal plans to go back into the jewelry industry. “I will do it!” Kamal confidently asserts; Opening Doors has no doubts that he will.