Tools of the Trade: Engaging Migrants in Business Classes in Niger

Salim, 38, is one of twenty-five migrants participating in business management training at IOM’s transit centre in Agadez. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Close to ten years ago, when he couldn’t provide for himself anymore, Salim, 38, decided to cut short his studies and leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Life took him to Cameroon, Iran, Morocco, and eventually to Algeria, where he started working as a house painter. Salim had always dreamt of making enough money to restart his life back home.

“All I ever wanted was to find a place where I could live peacefully,” he says.

By the time he arrived at IOM’s transit centre for migrants in Agadez, Salim was emotionally drained. He needed to do something to pass the time, so he would stop spending his days worrying about the future. He heard from IOM staff at the centre that there were business management classes being offered every week. Initially, he felt ambivalent about the classes’ value, but he decided to sign up anyway and quickly found himself immersed in the subject matter.

Salim hasn’t seen his parents since he left home nearly a decade ago and can’t even begin to imagine what his native country is like nowadays, but says he is ready to embrace it.

“This journey was the school of life for me, but I think I’m ready to learn some practical skills.” — Salim
The participants listen attentively to a module on the development of a business plan. Photo: Monica Chiriac / IOM (2018)

“Persistence will get us there in the end!” Rachid Kollo, Reintegration Assistant in Agadez, tells the twenty-five attentive students attending today’s microenterprise class. “Everybody has to start somewhere; there is no shame in that.”

Alhassane, an Agadez-based SIYB trainer, opens the floor to questions before moving on to today’s module on the development of a business plan.

He has been working with IOM’s partner, Tagazt, since 2004, providing business management trainings to diverse audiences ranging from women’s associations in Arlit to the migrants at IOM’s transit centre in Agadez.

“I explain to them from the very beginning that they should feel comfortable asking and saying anything. There is no right or wrong here,” Alhassane says.

Some of the participants already have diplomas in business management or finance, which Alhassane feels contributes immensely to the overall experience and information sharing aspect of the training.

“It’s important to hear and understand different points of view.” — Alhassane, SIYB Trainer
“With the ideas and skills I own now, I think I can become a successful business owner back home.” Photo: Monica Chiriac / IOM (2018)

Like her compatriot Salim, Judith, aged 35, is on her way back to DRC after spending two years in Algeria. Unlike Salim who is travelling alone, Judith is accompanied by her husband and daughters, aged two and five. Both she and her husband are participating in this week’s SIYB classes while the girls play quietly beside them. Back in Algeria, Judith was making cakes for a pastry shop for a living, but she has a diploma in finance and commerce, and plenty of innovative business ideas of her own.

Omar, aka Cobra, owner of printing shop Computer Hall, talks about his struggles opening a business and making it successful, to the migrants during their field visit. Photo: Monica Chiriac / IOM (2018)

As part of the weekly field trips, the group also visits various local enterprises in Agadez, such as tailor shops or Omar’s printing shop, Computer Hall. Omar, or as friends like to call him, Cobra, opened his shop back in 2015 and has slowly gained a reputation as the best printing shop in Agadez. During the visit, Cobra answers the migrants’ questions about the practicalities of opening their own businesses, and reassures them by sharing the struggles he had along the way.

“With the ideas and skills I own now, I think I can become a successful business owner back home.” — Judith
Elhadji, owner of furniture company N Meuble, explains the tips and tricks of the trade to the migrants during their field visit. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac (2018)

While Computer Hall was to Judith’s liking, it was the visit to N Meuble that sparked Salim’s interest. Elhadji’s father started the N Meuble furniture company in Agadez back in the ’70s. In 2004, Elhadji took over the company and turned it into one of the most successful enterprises in the city, catering to the tastes of everyone in the region. He now has seven staff and almost twenty apprentices who come and go, most of them teenagers who join the shop after school hours.

Elhadji is often approached by parents pleading to take in their children as apprentices as a means to pass the time and learn new skills instead of getting involved in criminal activities. Photo: Monica Chiriac / IOM (2018)

Twenty-seven-year-old Alpha left Guinea-Conakry a year ago after his father’s sudden death. Alpha had always looked up to his father, a talented and successful doctor, and the sole provider for their family. After his death, Alpha’s uncles came and took all his family’s possessions. He continued his studies for another year thanks to his sister’s support, but still frail from the new family reduced situation, he decided to leave the country.

“I sometimes think the world is unfair. If my father was still alive, I wouldn’t have had to go through such an ordeal,” Alpha reflects.

Six days a week, IOM organizes ‘Start and Improve Your Business’ (SIYB) trainings in both English and French for the migrants staying at IOM’s transit centre in Agadez, Niger, as they wait while their travel documents are processed and transportation to their country of origin is organized.

A lot of the migrants arrive at the centre hopeless and defeated; Alhassane sometimes struggles to keep the migrants motivated during the one-week training. On the other hand, some who’ve already participated in the training drop in to attend sessions again. Others have already framed and laminated the certificates they receive at the end of the training.

Alpha is thankful for the classes as they take his mind off everything he endured.

“I may be young, but I could have easily lost my mind with all of the things that happened to me during the past couple of years,” he says.

An excellent student prior to his father’s death, Alpha is determined to continue his studies and chase his dream when he returns home.

“I dream of becoming someone successful one day, just like my father.” — Alpha Photo: Monica Chiriac / IOM (2018)

More than 300 migrants will have received ‘Start and Improve Your Business’ (SIYB) trainings at the transit centre for migrants in Agadez by the end of 2018, with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

The assistance provided at IOM’s six transit centres for migrants in Niger in the framework of the Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism (MRRM) is funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, and co-financed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France (MEAE), the German Cooperation, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Swiss Confederation, Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).

This story was written by Monica Chiriac, Media and Communications Officer at IOM Niger.