Dreaming big

Mustafa in his shop
Sunday, March 19, 2023

Mustafa dreaming big after years of suffering

At the nights when everyone is almost asleep, in the relatively large garden of his home, Mustafa would sit lonely all by his own spending hours contemplating his life.

He would spend hours absent in thoughts of how he didn’t manage to complete his education, how all his fellows then secured jobs in the public sector and how they all got married. He would struggle in thoughts thinking he was left behind.

Sitting alone and being lost in such thoughts could happen to anyone. But, for Mustafa, it was happening often.

Mustafa’s early childhood was ordinary. He was happy, cared for and felt his childhood was complete. During his years of primary school, he was one of the high achieving students. In the last year of primary school, he was ranked the fifth among his fellow graduates.

However, as he entered the first year of secondary school, he started to feel different and he scored low in exams.  His younger brother suffered from a disability in lower extremities because of a meninges of the brain. Mustafa would spend a lot of time caring for him, feeding him, and washing him. Taking the responsibility of his younger brother at such young age coupled with finding time to study and the financial struggles of his family, all exhausted Mustafa mentally.  Mustafa said about those days, “sixty percent was psychological condition, psychological fatigue. I went to the psychiatrist and he prescribed me a medicine.  Sometimes I would fall asleep and sometimes I would feel better.” 

Mustafa was struggling in school, but he eventually managed to make it to the final exams of the last year of high school. However, he was inconsistent in attending the final exams.  During those days, he was studying and also working at the same time to make ends meet for his family.  He was working in a shop selling plant seeds, agricultural seeds, fertilizers, and gardening supplies.  Ultimately, Mustafa felt so much pressure on him that he dropped out of high school.

Mustafa today is twenty-seven. He is originally from Mosul, but his family moved to Tal Abtah, a town 80.6 km away from Mosul, sixteen years ago when Mustafa was just eleven. Mustafa has three brothers and he is the second eldest. His elder brother is married and is living on his own while Mustafa lives with his parents and two younger brothers in a modest home in Tal Abtah.

As he couldn’t complete his education, he started to assist and work with his father at the veterinary shop.  During those days, his psychological condition started to improve.  He shared, “My family was telling me that my psychological condition was getting better than the year before. (In the past) I always liked to sit on my own, not to talk to anyone, and not to hear anyone’s voice. I was suffering from Isolation and loneliness.  Now I am better and the symptoms are better.”

Earlier this year, Mustafa’s elder brother saw an advertisement for a ten-day business management training offered by World Vision Iraq in Partnership with UNDP and with funding from BMZ and KFW.  He immediately registered Mustafa’s name for the training program.   Mustafa was chosen out of 580 applicants eligible to participate in the program based on vulnerability criteria.  Mustafa said, “It was a ten-day training. I met people. The training was about management and economy.  How to promote and market a business; how to sell; and (we learned) about strengths and weakness. It nurtured optimism in me and I got acquainted to people. My psychological condition became better.  I am feeling better and more optimistic.”

Mustafa also received a financial grant from the project. Through the grant, he bought supplies and equipment to open a store of animal feeds.  He prepares, packages and sells them.  Mustafa feels happy that he can do something useful with his life. He shared, “It is the first time in my life to open a store.  My income has increased. Before, all the money would go to home expenses and daily life consumptions but now I have an income and I have a hope to live from. I don’t have a job (in the public sector) and I haven’t completed my education. I was feeling bewildered before.”

Today, Mustafa dreams big and he wants to be a trader of animal feeds.  He dreams to improve the quality of animal feeds and that, one day, he builds a company of animal feeds.  He wishes to contribute to help Iraq rely on itself in having animal feeds and not to import anymore. 

Mustafa wished to share a word with those suffering from mental health. He shared, “Happiness entered all of our hearts.” He continued, “First, don’t give up to the hardest circumstances of life. Second, remember god and pray. Third, optimism; visiting positive places like parks and walking in these places is a positive thing to do. A message of peace to friends who supported me emotionally: I am very grateful for you.”

According to Enabling Peace in Iraq Center, 18.6% of the people in Iraq are estimated to be suffering from Mental health, that is 5.9 million people.  In Iraq, it is considered a stigma to talk about mental health yet it has taken Mustafa much courage and bravery to share his story with the world. A project like the Provision of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises helps individuals like Mustafa not only with gaining skills and experiences, but it also indirectly helps improve the quality of mental health and life. Through this project in Tal Abtah, seventy individuals received business trainings, of these, 57 received financial grants to develop their own projects. Throughout the whole project in Ninewa, 204 persons received business management trainings, and 170 persons received financial grants.

Mental Health in Iraq: Misunderstood & Marginalized - EPIC - Enabling Peace in Iraq Center