By Pfc. Kimberly HackbarthMay 11, 2010
HAMAMIAT, Iraq - There's an empty space where a front window should be, letting in flies that climb over food waiting to be sold to customers, while dust coats the shelves at a hole-in-the-wall falafel shop in Hamamiat.
Shop owner, Majid Saadoon Noor, is caught in a catch-22. He believes that with improvements to his shop, he can double his business. However, because he isn't drawing in enough customers, he can't make enough money to afford those improvements. He also is unable to secure a small business loan because they are unavailable from Iraqi banks.
There is help. U.S. forces are offering micro-grants to Iraqi small business owners to help grow the local economy.
Company B, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment Soldiers visited Majid's falafel shop and another business to hand out paperwork for the shop owners to apply for the micro-grants.
Funding for micro-grants comes from the Commanders' Emergency Response Program, explained Staff Sgt. Carl Hendricks, a squad leader with B Co., 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt.
Commanders in the battalion, working with local Iraqi leaders, choose businesses they feel would be the best candidates to help boost the local economy, foster security and leave a positive impression in the community long after the brigade redeploys.
Through micro-grants of up to $5,000, business owners can purchase air conditioners, windows, appliances and furniture, something Majid said he would like for his shop to make his customers happier.
"I'm looking forward to improving the service provided," said Majid.
Local citizens and members of the Iraqi Security Forces view the falafel stand as a main stop for food, so getting the owner better conditions for his products helps the people in that area, said Hendricks.
At a nearby sewing shop, which also serves as a school where Iraqi women learn how to sew, a different need was identified.
Unlike the falafel shop, the work area in the sewing shop does not need as much structural work. However, the women lack many of the necessary supplies for sewing, such as fabric and thread.
The head teacher at the school also filled out paperwork given to her by the Soldiers to apply for a micro-grant.
"It'll help (the populace) so that when we do leave, they're able to have food and have their schools," said Hendricks. "They can be independent."