Food preparation trainees during their internship period with a private sector employer in Basra, Iraq.
Food preparation trainees during their internship period with a private sector employer in Basra, Iraq.

Vocational training opens new opportunities to help Iraq rebuild

Sultan Jaber can tell you a lot about hope. An Iraqi born in Kuwait, Sultan moved to the Basra Province of Iraq in 1991, which you will remember, was a time of war and massive upheaval. He returned, as he says, “to my roots” with hope and a determination to help Iraq rebuild.

Today, after decades of conflict, Iraq is making progress towards stability. Unfortunately, the economy is still in tatters and its infrastructure crumbling. Tens of thousands of students graduate each year with no hope of finding jobs. But Sultan sees dedicated people at the frontline of reconstruction efforts in communities all over Basra.

Sultan is the coordinator of WUSC programming in Basra which gives Iraqi youth and women much needed technical and vocational trade skills as a way to not only support themselves and their families, but to contribute to rebuilding their communities and their country.

“This is where Iraq’s rebuilding is going to happen. You can’t fix the infrastructure, the electrical grid, or build a hospital if you don’t have people who know how to do those jobs, and do them well.”

The program that Sultan coordinates is unique in that it supports local vocational training centres in ensuring equal access for women to their training courses. This has taken a lot of trust-building on Sultan’s part. In many traditional communities women are not encouraged, or sometimes even allowed, to attend classes or hold a job where they will be with men.

But one by one, he has shown the community that women can still attend training in a way that aligns with local values, and the skills learned are vital to getting a job and supporting their families.

“Each trainee who graduates makes a change for their family, and then participates in building their community. With each one, it adds up. It’s good for the community.” 

Sultan is especially proud of Saba Ali Hamza, a wife and mother in Basra. She did not receive any education after primary school, and in her area, social norms prevent women from accessing education or employment outside the home.

With her husband unable to find a job, Saba urgently looked for a way to support their family. Thanks to the program that Sultan coordinates, which supports local vocational training centres to open opportunities for women, she was able to apply for a course in food preparation. The course was so useful that after it ended, she was able to open her own business with some other women in the community. They now sell cakes and sweets from home through social media.

Saba is now contributing economically to their household, and has shown the community that women can work, care for their families, and contribute to the local economy. This is a tremendous victory in a region where ideas about traditional gender roles are held so firmly.

Sultan will tell you the very best part of his job is seeing people change their lives. “If we support people, help them gain new skills, they will increase their income, they will not have so many problems, they will make their community stronger.”

This December, we are asking our community to make a donation to WUSC to support programs like this one that have a transformative impact in the lives of women and youth. Click here to show your support!

WUSC works to create a better world for all young people. To learn more, start here or subscribe to get highlights straight to your inbox. Interested in volunteering internationally? View our current opportunities. Looking for a new career opportunity? Check out our current job openings. Or show your support for our cause by making a donation.


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