How One Woman Sewed Strength Back Into Her Community

Bayan’s new sewing business in Sinjar buzzes with energy: sewing machines humming, scissors cutting, people chatting, filling the air with warmth and heart. Her customers travel from all across the area for her beautifully crafted ceremonial dresses. Bayan’s shop is not just a business to support her family but a place of unity where all people, regardless of religion or ethnicity, are welcome.  

Bayan’s new shop in her hometown of Sinjar is thriving. She employs two women, enabling them to take care of their families. Photo by Hawar Adil.

Bayan’s journey hasn’t been easy. Ten years ago, she was diagnosed with leukemia. As she and her husband struggled to get treatment and pay for it, her eldest son became gravely ill. Bayan’s world came crashing down when her son died. Leukemia had unknowingly taken over his body, too. 

The next year brought no respite from grief or terror. In August 2014, she, her husband, and their two surviving children fled their home in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. As ISIS attacked countless Yazidi communities, committing unspeakable atrocities, Bayan’s family and thousands of others sought safety in a camp near Duhok. Living with no consistent income and little access to healthcare, her family desperately needed support. You recognized her need and gave her the means to take control of her future. 

Thanks to your generosity, Bayan was selected to participate in our jobs empowerment program, which gives entrepreneurs a small business grant to start a business and a year of one-to-one coaching to help that business thrive. With her grant, Bayan bought a sewing machine, a weaving machine, an iron, a generator, and other supplies needed to open up her very own sewing business inside the camp in 2018. Once her business was up and running, Bayan was able to send her children to school and pay for her medical treatments. 

Bayan dreamed of reuniting with her family and loved ones in Sinjar. A little over a year ago, her dream became a reality when she and her family were able to leave the camp in Dohuk and move back to Sinjar. Our program officer’s relationship moved with her. He maintained regular contact and continued to coach her, inviting her to a roundtable discussion for business owners in Sinjar to share her success story. Working from a relationship of trust, he supported Bayan as she deepened her skills and renewed her confidence. Bayan opened a new sewing shop, restoring stability and permanence to her life again. 

Bayan’s Sinjar shop is thriving, benefiting herself, her family, and her community. She currently employs two women who can now take care of their families. Since becoming an entrepreneur, she has trained over one hundred women who opened their own businesses in the Dohuk camp or in Sinjar. She tells other business owners, “You have to love your job and try to depend on yourselves to develop and grow it.” 

As Bayan holds up a tape measure to calculate the hem of her customer’s dress, her head is free of burdensome thoughts. “Do not compromise. Do not weaken, and continue to struggle in order to reach your goal,” Bayan advises, a pillar of stability and success despite her previous suffering. Bayan’s unassailable perseverance and strength are sewn into her work and passed along to her customers.

Bayan poses for the camera. Photo by Hawar Adil.

Bayan’s story inspires us to search for hope, even in darkness. As we share our stories, we build much-needed connections to people different from ourselves, reaffirming our shared humanity. The interweaving of each of our stories brings us the unity and understanding we need to love anyway.