As Iraq rebuilds after years of devastating conflict, support is needed to meet the challenges of residual insecurity, damage to property and public infrastructure, insufficient access to services, and limited economic opportunity in many regions.
Abdulmalik Khalid, 27, comes from Shorsh — a subdistrict of Chamchamal, in Sulaymaniyah governorate, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. After receiving his diploma in Medical Laboratory Techniques in 2015, he worked many low-paying jobs — including as a street sweeper. Abdulmalik had given up hope of working in his field of study, and he never thought about having his own business. However, in 2018, he developed a project proposal to open a medical laboratory and was selected to take part in the Individual Livelihood Assistance (ILA) programme run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The ILA inspired and allowed Abdulmalik to take the initiative and open his own laboratory in Shorsh. In early 2022, he spoke to IOM Iraq about his experience and the progress he has made since opening his business.
“I have always managed to find jobs for myself — even when they were deemed improper by others, or when they paid very little. I have worked as an assistant in a small market and sold fruits on a wagon, clothes in the Bazar, and children’s balloons on the street. I even worked as a street sweeper for three months – can you imagine how it feels like to graduate as one of the top students in your class, and have to sweep streets to make a living?
I tried to work as a medical laboratory technician after getting my diploma, but I never found a decent-paying job. Only once did I receive an offer from a lab that I applied to; they offered me a monthly payment of IQD 170,000 – roughly USD 110 — to work six days a week. I asked them to raise it, but they refused, so I didn’t accept it.
I have never been rich, so I never dreamt of having my own lab. I feel that when you are poor, your imagination is also limited and you can’t come up with ideas, whereas when you have money, ideas enter your mind out of nowhere. When IOM informed me that I’d been shortlisted for their Individual Livelihood Assistance (ILA) Programme in 2018, I struggled to come up with ideas. Some people told me to open a photocopy store, but I wasn’t convinced. I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of business I should propose. When I went to the IOM office one morning, I suddenly got the idea to use my degree and open a laboratory. My proposal was accepted.
Starting and running a laboratory is not easy; it takes time, commitment, experience, and money. That’s why I found a business partner who was experienced and in a better financial situation than me, to set up the laboratory with. IOM provided us with equipment, and we took care of the rest. My father thought I was crazy to start a lab in such a small town like Shorsh, but I was confident that it would succeed.
I was very happy when we opened the lab in 2018. I worked very hard every day and was dedicated to making it succeed, but we barely made any profit in the first months. In Shorsh, people don’t have a lot of money, and many ask us for discounts, though our prices are very cheap. One day, a man asked for a 50% discount on a Random Blood Sugar test that only cost IQD 1,000.
The first year we opened the lab, a woman from Shorsh who’d studied Medical Microbiology came to us asking for a job. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to hire someone, but then she offered to work in the laboratory as a volunteer for her own experience. We accepted her. After six months, I saw how active and committed she was to the lab, so I started to give her a small salary from my own pocket; that was all that I could spare. After that, my partner and I decided to give her money from the lab’s income as well. Fortunately, the lab grew, and we established a good reputation in the town. Today, we have three people working for us on daily basis. We recently bought a Complete Blood Count (CBC) device that we are paying for in installments. This device will allow us to expand the type of tests we offer.
I believe that IOM’s support put me in a situation that I’m still benefitting from. I have recently started studying for a bachelor’s degree in the same field of medical laboratory technology. With a bachelor’s degree, I will be able to open a bigger lab and offer more advanced tests.
I wouldn’t be able to afford my studies without the income from the lab. Many people receive support like the ILA, but they don’t create anything with it; they face the same challenges as before within a year. I think if you are honest with yourself [about the opportunity], you should exploit such opportunities to create a worthy livelihood.”
Abdulmalik received ILA from IOM Iraq, with support from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.