@Sun setting in Thailand, March 2014

Sometimes I feel so hopeful, so inspired, so proud of them that my heart needs more room to contain it.

Yet always there renting some space, is a somewhat overwhelmed and torn part of me.

For 1.5 years, Incitement Growth has worked with students at several refugee schools. There were times I’d worry about what their first experiences will be like once resettled someday to US, UK, AUS, CAN. As we know anywhere, some kids can be quite the bullies!

Incredibly, we’ve seen the amazing transformation in our students’ confidence, initiative, fears and leadership to own their transition years in Malaysia. That has been our guiding vision – to fit them to own their lives in a way school never could alone. For them to take an active role in driving their own present and future.

We have been fortunate to see the fruition of our group’s vision, and I no longer worried.

Still the teens have much to learn, but they’ve come impressively far. Baby steps and strides will follow suit after their starting push off.

The teachers and school organizers give so much. We know the students take so much from what they’re given. More than our team from the across the world ever could have.

Now for the first time in some time, the overwhelmed part of my heart is calling out again.

In January, Incitement Growth met with the Social Protection Fund of UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and 5 women from the Iraqi, Irani, Afghan, Pakistani and Sundanese refugee communities to relaunch the UNHCR’s income generation program. As it previously proved unsustainable as a microfinance model, we’ll help to shape a new, results-driven income gen program funded by small grants. The goal? To guide the women in evolving from home bakers, babysitters, artists, salon services to first-time businesswomen.

Here’s what made me feel torn again. We’ve met some of the women before and are aware of their situations and resources. But in listening to their stories, we just cannot comprehend what it must be like to work hard to earn rm20-50 ($6-17) a day to feed and shelter a family. Then try and switch to a new way of thinking and compile something strange called a business plan. It was a very new way of thinking for them. A means of working for that day vs. working ahead to project out costs of materials, time, earnings, profit, etc.

This, in the very same city I live an expat life. I enjoy and am thankful to live the quadruple life I’ve made here in Kuala Lumpur, especially this one. To work with such driven women who want to do and learn so much is an honor and truly inspiring.

The business experience and consultation in this new program could be the most effective education the women undergo for themselves and their families. This could be the best method to equip them for success now and in the future, once invited to a new country for greater and more equal opportunities.

The paradox of circumstance grounds a wide range of realities.

Some challenges we will never face. We are all so fortunate beyond our dreams.

Amidst those who craft their luck and circumstance beyond so many limitations in resource and environment –

Therein lies a beauty of humanity.

Original post here: http://incitementgrowth.com/beauty-in-the-refugee-women/

Note: This was written late January, the day of our first meeting with the refugee women applying for UNHCR grants to grow their tiny home business and become entrepreneurs.

Since then just before the grants were released to the women, we held in March our first of a serious of 4-hour workshops to start and grow their businesses. They created their customer avatars, drafted marketing plans, and learned that inaccurately accounting for finances meant realizing that making rm250 (US$75) revenue a week, could actually total to rm30 (US$10) profit a week to contribute to their families.

At the end of the workshop, we asked them why they were starting home businesses. Yes, each woman came to Malaysia 1-2 years prior, so it’s likely they will be in KL for another 2-10 years. Seen as ‘illegal immigrants’, they have very limited opportunities to make a living and their children likely won’t get a rounded education. Why have they decided to start a business from home? 

“My dream is to continue my painting and one day own an art gallery to showcase it and others’ work from the Middle East.”

“I want to own my own beauty salons with my sister.”

“I want to own my own restaurant in America.”

“I dream of having a chain of my Middle Eastern restaurants around the world.” 

As my Incitement Growth co-founder Yu Jin wrapped up the previous week when we held a monthly IG session on Achieving Dreams for our partner Burmese refugee school,

“You know what happened to the people who had big dreams 40-50 years ago?”

…They changed the world. :)