The cacophony of Baghdad’s crowded streets is sharply offset by the calm one finds stepping beyond the gate of the Sadiaa Hamza Bakery. In the courtyard where figs and lemons trees grow, a woman sits peeling onions while chickens roam, pecking at patches of grass. Upstairs, a little boy sleeps while his mother, Randa Saad, 41, orients her workers around the day’s priorities.
Mix in the flour, eggs, oil, and sugar; get the dough rising; prep the vegetables for the savory dishes; organize the packages of sweets; prepare for delivery.
Right after the bakery opens, Hanan Kairen comes in cheerfully to pick up the packages of cookies that she’ll distribute to government institutions. “I’ve been coming here for years,” she says. “It’s delicious!”
Hanan hands over cash in exchange for the treats and dashes back out the door.
Randa learned about the EDF grant on Facebook. After successfully completing the application process, the bakery received $15,000 in funding. The money enabled them to buy three fridges, a new oven, a fryer, and a mixer. The five workers in the kitchen were joined by three new employees. And now, with increased demand, the bakery even had to hire a third driver to deliver their sweets.
At about 10:30 in the morning, Yass Samir arrives to pick up pastries. In his seven years delivering for them, Yass has watched Tajhizat Umm Thayir Bakery grow, and he said that he’s been benefiting from the consistency of his work. With increased sales, Yass’s hours have also been expanded. And now, in addition to daytime runs, he’s delivering to catering clients in the evening.
Randa, who was married at 15, decided to open the bakery to help support her growing family. Her husband maintains and repairs air conditioners, and they split the bills—she pays the rent and he pays for school and food. “It would have been impossible for us to support our family on his salary alone,” Randa said.
Although Randa has ambitions of expanding the business, she said that she’s only beginning to feel stable for the first time in years, after facing several challenging circumstances.
First, in 2019, she had to close the bakery for four months because of the protests against government corruption, and then again for 6 months during the Covid-19 pandemic, which was a blow to the business and all its employees.
2021 was a year of recovery.
It’s the year that Wafaa Abbas was hired thanks to the EDF grant. Wafaa is the bakery’s newest employee. She said she was grateful to find a position in a city where people struggle to find jobs, especially after she was forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy at a private hospital in 2020.
Normally, medical care is free at public hospitals in Iraq, but Wafaa’s doctor told her the procedure was too urgent for her to wait in the long queue of people in need of surgeries. “I would have had to wait months to get in at the public hospital,” she said. “I could have died in that time.”
The procedure was successful, but Wafaa was left with a massive amount of debt. Her position at the bakery, where she prepares meat pies for the afternoon, has helped her to start the long journey to financial recovery.