The Blessing Shop: A Small Business Near Fallujah That Lives Up to Its Name

The Blessing Shop.

That’s what Sabeha named her store in Iraq. You see the sign as you approach the building:

The Blessing Shop: Clothes for Women and Children, Purses, Perfumes, Cosmetics, Shoes

Sabeha carries everything the women in her village need to look their best. She makes sure to keep a wide stock, bringing in new dresses from nearby Fallujah.

Hers is the only store for women in the village, and she enjoys taking care of her customers.

We talk with Sabeha about her business, how she’s been doing since she opened with an small business grant you provided last year. Her profits have been modest but consistent.

The Blessing Shop has been open for nearly a year now, but the real story of this place goes back a few years earlier—and it starts with an adorable, determined little boy named Mohammad.

Jessica Courtney talks with Mohammad outside the Easter party, 2015. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

In April 2015, we held an Easter party for children displaced by ISIS. These were the early days of ISIS’s rise to power. The world hadn’t yet seen the full scope of fear and pain they would unleash—but the children of Iraq, they already knew.

The party, hosted by a local church, was held for kids are from a variety of backgrounds and faiths. But they all had something in common: violence, displacement, grief, and the need to deal with the loss of their earlier lives.

It was everything a kid could hope for in a party: colored eggs, silly string, confetti cannons, and cotton candy.

There was purpose in the fun, though. Woven into the party activities were exercises designed to bring healing—to give the children a safe place to talk about their pain and their longing for safety.

It was at this party that we met Mohammad and his family.

Mohammad wanted more than the restoration of what ISIS stole from his family. He wanted to be able to walk. When we met Mohammad, his only means for getting around was a wheelchair.

Getting around in a wheelchair is challenging during the best of times in Iraq. During wartime, it can be almost impossible.

Mohammad dreaming of walking on his own, Easter 2015. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

Built into everything we do is the flexibility to serve acute needs as we find them—the right help at the right time. For Mohammad, that meant providing psychosocial help and some fun, but it also meant additional medical care.

You provided medication for Mohammad for six months and a framework of care that would carry him forward.

In time, Mohammad’s village near Fallujah was liberated from ISIS, and his family wanted to go home! There were two things preventing them from returning: Mohammad’s need for physical therapy (not available in their hometown) and the financial means to rebuild their lives.

Mohammad’s father spent hours with his son’s therapist, learning how to provide Mohammad’s physical therapy himself. Then there was only one hurdle left to cross. Last September, Mohammad’s father called us. He remembered the care we provided for his son years earlier. He explained that the ability to earn a living was the only thing holding their family back from returning home. He asked if there was anything we could do to help.

There was, in fact, something we could do.

Together we provided Sabeha, Mohammad’s mom, a business grant to open a shop in their village, which gave them the means to move back home.

Sabeha unpacks her first stock for her store, October 2017. Photo by Bilal Anbar.

Sabeha rented the only shop in the village, and stocked it with the warm clothes her neighbours would be looking for to carry them through winter. She serves her customers well, continuing to bring in new stock as the seasons change

Today, her shop is a fixture in the community.

While we were busy talking about Sabeha’s business on our recent visit, a very special boy walked into the store.

Mohammad walked into the store. He’s taller now, his face has thinned, and his hair is red with henna, but the biggest change in Mohammad is the fact that he can walk!

Mohammad walked into his mom’s shop on his own! Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love Coalition.

With the help of doctors and therapists, his father, medication, and his own determination, Mohammad achieved the dream he shared with us at the Easter party three years earlier.

It’s not necessarily easy to be back home. Sabeha, Mohammad, and their family face many of the struggles that Iraqis in rural, post-war communities face: slow government response, little electricity and water. But as we’ve heard from so many families, they are eager to trade the hardships of being displaced for the hardships of living in a community that is rebuilding.

When we say we’re “first in, and the last to leave,” this is what we mean. We invest in relationships, design for flexibility, see whole families, and partner with them right where they are. We give families the tools they need to be well and to rebuild their lives.

Sometimes you have to pause to mark the occasion. Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love Coalition.

Be first in, last to leave. Give families what they need to rebuild their lives.

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