This is part of our World Refugee Day series honoring Kiva borrowers who made the incredible journey from refugee to entrepreneur.
Story by Kiva Fellow Nina Patel and Diana Silva, Kiva marketing intern. Photos by Nina Patel.
For Kone, a designer and tailor, achieving his dream of owning his own business in Nairobi has been a long journey, both mentally and physically.
In 2002, he was the proud owner of a stable and prosperous tailoring business in his native Côte d’Ivoire, when his life was turned upside down by the First Ivorian Civil War. His business was burned to the ground. He was separated from his entire family, his wife and 2 children.
During the 4-year civil war that followed, he searched for a way out. He managed to escape the violence, leaving everything behind and not knowing where he would land. Kone travelled 4,600 miles in 1 year, from Côte d’Ivoire to Kenya. While crossing 8 African countries, he was given official UNHCR refugee status.
He hasn’t yet found his family and like many other refugees around the world, doesn’t have any news about where they are.
“I miss my family,” Kone says. “I want to be united with them once again someday as all work I do today is still for them.”
Not knowing what happened to your family or what will happen to you, the uncertainty of moving to a new place, all these hardships are realities of refugee life.
“Life was so uncertain and scary but with my refugee brothers and sisters I had hope,” Kone said, “[Even though] I didn’t know where my family was.”
Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa: around half a million are currently living in Kenya’s third largest “city,” the Dadaab refugee camp. Even for those lucky enough to be in a urban center, like Kone, starting over can be extremely challenging. Despite being highly skilled, he struggled to make a living. His refugee status meant that he couldn’t easily start his design and tailoring business. “I wasn’t able to get proper work as people did not want to employ refugees so I struggled to afford basic things such as clothes and food.”
But refugees are, above all, resilient. After receiving his first Kiva loan of $125 from 13 lenders, Kone says he is making positive strides.
“Now I have my own shop where I can grow my business steadily, I don’t have to travel to people’s houses around the city, work in different tailoring shops in various Nairobi markets. Kiva loan access will bring stability to my business”.
By telling his story, Kone hopes to reclaim some of his past and by growing his business he hopes to build a better future for himself, and other refugees.
“I want to have a bigger shop in a more secured location of Nairobi. With a larger next loan, I can do that and also can employ my refugee brothers and sisters,” Kone says.
“I am so grateful for Kenya, my trustee Xavier Project, my lenders from the globe and Kiva for believing in me, giving me this opportunity to grow big again, for hearing my story.”
Empowering business owners, like Kone, to regain control of their lives and give back to the community that accepted them is the unique way the Kiva community is helping refugees around the world rebuild.
If you would like to help an entrepreneur with big dreams but limited opportunities like Kone, visit Kiva.org today and make a loan! If you’d like to support a loan to refugee or displaced person check here (these loans often fund fast though so you may need to check again later)!