Sultana and a friend delivering Blossom Pads
Despite arriving in a new country with little or nothing, and facing various challenges in rebuilding their lives, many refugees overcome these struggles and start their own businesses. Thanks to their unique skills and passion, they influence and enrich the communities and lives around them, whether it’s through art, food, clothes and so much more. Below, discover nine refugee-run businesses and social enterprises that highlight the many contributions of refugees to culture in the United States.
Zubaidah arrived in the U.S. from Iraq as a refugee in 2014. She owns Zubaidah Boutique, where she creates handmade jewellery. Hand-made using the highest quality materials, her products blending the originality of the past with the modernity of the present. “Since childhood, I have had a passion for disassembling and assembling things to see what they would look like in a new way or to learn how they are made,” Zubaidah says. “I always have new ideas to create beautiful things that make people happy.” Visit her website here.
Sultana Amani is a 21-year-old Afghan entrepreneur, activist, and student. She arrived in the United States after fleeing her home in Kabul when the Taliban took control of the country. Sultana runs a social enterprise that employs Afghan women in their homes to make reusable menstrual products–called Blossom Pads–for other Afghan women.
Heart Of Ukraine
Though Olha spoke little English upon arriving in Salt Lake City after fleeing the war in Ukraine, she remained resilient and creative. She is bridging the gap between language and culture through the start of her business, Heart Of Ukraine, where she makes traditional Oreshki cookies. Olha has been able to take her business to the next level through the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City’s small business program. She was also recently recognized in the International Rescue Committee & Craft Lake City public art exhibit: Together We Welcome. “Every time I get an order, there is joy in my heart,” says Olha. “This business makes me feel like I have a purpose here. It has given me light in the darkness.” Visit her Instagram here.
EnfanceRadieuse Child Care
Fatima arrived in the United States with her two children from Togo, a country located in West Africa, soon after her husband sought asylum in 2016. Her family resettled as refugees, working hard to rebuild their lives in the Beehive State. Fatima announced her new child care business, EnfanceRadieuse—meaning “Light of Children”—earlier this year. The day care service provides a bi-lingual (French and English) environment, so kids can explore their linguistic abilities and learn a new language during their time at the center. Visit her website here.
New Roots Tucson Farmers
Egide and Anezi are farmers and refugees from Burundi. Egide and his family arrived in 2016, and Anezi and her family arrived in 2015. They now grow hot peppers and a variety of other produce at the IRC’s New Roots program in Tucson, Arizona, and sell them at local farmer's markets. They have also partnered with a local restaurant, LaCo, to provide their locally grown chillies for LaCo’s house-made hot sauces. Egide and Anezi are ecstatic that the Tucson community can finally taste what they devoted so much time to carefully grow and create. Egide said, “I am so pleased because it makes me feel like what I am doing, the work I am doing, is being enjoyed by other people.”
Abyssinia Restaurant and Cafe
Azeb is a refugee from Ethiopia, came to Phoenix, AZ, 12 years ago with a dream of one day opening her very own restaurant. Through the Economic Empowerment program at the IRC, she was given a loan to open her restaurant, Abyssinia Restaurant and Cafe, in 2015. At her restaurant, she serves a wide variety of Ethiopian dishes, including Missir, Shiro, and Doro. Azeb also performs a traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony—an important and spiritual cultural ritual.
Historically in Ethiopia, women perform this spiritual ceremony three times a day - morning, afternoon, and night, as a way to welcome and connect with neighbors, friends, and family. In the eight years of owning her restaurant, she has seen some highs and lows and her business is slowly picking back up after the impact of COVID-19. Yet, Azeb’s faith in God, and her positive attitude never waiver. Visit her website here.
Too Sabrozo Delicatessen
Isela is an enterprising woman, professional chef, wife, mother, and a political asylee from Colombia. She fled Cartagena in 2015 due to persecution by the government for her activism defending the Black and Afro-descendant communities of Colombia. Too Sabrozo Delicatessen, her thriving business and food truck, fulfils her dream and passion for cuisine. She sells at local farmers' markets, is a supplier to local specialty grocers, offers deliveries, and caters for events. Visit her website here.
Born in Sierra Leone, Kadijatu struggled with depression as an asylum seeker building a new life in Arizona. She couldn’t find her story in the culture around her. One night, she prayed. “Believe it or not,” Kadijatu recalls, “I dreamt of making shoes. And I woke up—I only had $100 to my name—and I went to Walmart.”
At home, she pulled a pair of sneakers apart to learn how to make them herself. That was the beginning of her journey with Dija’s Touch, a brand and platform for women’s empowerment. Today, with support from an IRC microenterprise program, Kadijatu uses African prints to create custom-designed shoes and products. Inspired by words her mother shared when she left Sierra Leone—“Wherever you find yourself, try to be part of the community”—she seeks to give back. Kadijatu recently hosted an event to introduce her brand to her new community in Pennsylvania; a quarter of the sales were donated to the construction of a vocational school for women and girls in Sierra Leone. Visit her website here.
Mother of All Catering
Chef Kaltum Mohamed learned to love cooking as a child by helping her mother in the kitchen and quickly realized her passion for food. Kaltum wants to share her East African culinary traditions with all of Utah. Her cuisine is reminiscent of Sudan with special spices and a beautiful presentation. Some of her specialties include gima, a crispy potato dish of peas, beef, and Sudanese spices; sambusa, a triangular pastry filled with vegetables and spices; falafel; and basbusa, a sweet, syrupy semolina cake. Visit her website here.
How can you help?
The IRC stands for a world that recognizes, welcomes and supports all refugees. You can help by supporting refugee owned businesses, like the ones mentioned above. Thank you for your support!
Olha, owner of Heart of Ukraine
Kadijatu, owner of Dija's Touch