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From barber to business owner, a Somali refugee success story in Dadaab

Thursday August 20, 2020

Nimaan sitting in his shop / Ahmed Abdullahi / Ergo

(ERGO) – Nu’man Jama Hirad, a 29-year-old refugee in Hagardhera camp in Dadaab, supports his family of seven from his business selling mobile phones and electronics.

Starting work as a humble barber, he now owns the elegant Skylink Centre housing his shop, located on the main road in Hagardhera market.

The business makes him a decent 300 to 400 dollars a month. More than the profits, what motivates him is knowing he is his own boss.

“I own all the stock and items I’m selling – I no longer work for anyone,” he told Radio Ergo.

“The big difference is the same community despising you yesterday no longer has contempt for you today. Those who thought you were impoverished look up to you when they see where you are today. Indeed my mind is very calm now, I don’t feel inferior to anyone,” he said.

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Nu’man lost his father as a child and his family relied on aid. When he was 22, and in his final year of primary school, he remembers the day he decided he had to earn money.

“One day, I went to school without breakfast. I came back at 10.am and I was told there is no breakfast. I went back to school again and came back at 12 o’clock – I was told there is no lunch. I asked my mother what is going on and she replied, ‘I don’t have anything to cook for the family’. She reminded me I must stand for my family and that was the last day I went to school.”

He does not regret dropping out of school. After two years as a barber – looked down on as a low-class job – earning less than half a dollar a day, he bought the business with a partner and later bought out his partner for $300. He launched Skylink in early 2019.

The economic downturn from Coronavirus has put him under some pressure. He used to offer a savings facility for teachers and others in the camp, providing salary advance services when they were out of cash. But the teachers have been sent on one-year unpaid compulsory leave and can no longer pay their debts.

“I will have to wait until the schools are open,” Nu’man says.

The majority of young people in the camps are unemployed and looking for highly paid office jobs that are hard to find. Nu’man’s advice, however, is not to scorn lower standing jobs that can get you where you want to be.

“I am telling the Somali youth, whether they are in the country or abroad, or in the refugee camps, whichever clan you belong, pride will not help you. What matters most for you is what will benefit you or your family, whether you work as a barber or a hotel waiter, or digging a pit latrine. I am reminding the Somali youth there are jobs that are despised but are highly rewarding.”

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