U.S. ‘microgrants’ win hearts, minds

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“Allison. Allison, my friend. Welcome, welcome,” Faris Hassan Jabber said with a broad smile.

Mr. Jabber, a carpenter, was a recipient of a microgrant and was working at his bandsaw as Capt. Todd Allison of Charlie Company entered his cubbyhole shop in a neighborhood called Taribiyah.

Mr. Jabber proudly showed Capt. Allison the carved upper-back frame of a sofa he had just produced and the work started on another piece of furniture. On the wall behind him was an 8-by-10-inch photograph of Mr. Jabber shaking hands with the American officer.

Mr. Jabber was the first business owner to get microgrant funding in al-Beidha’a, and Capt. Allison was the soldier who made it happen.

When Capt. Allison first visited, Mr. Jabber was working with just one saw, a plane and a few other hand tools. Other saws and attachments on his carpentry station had long ceased to function and the furniture maker was having a difficult time supporting his family of five.

With funds from the microgrant, $500 of his own money and trading in the decrepit machine table, Mr. Jabber purchased a fully functioning secondhand one.

“Business is better,” he said through an interpreter. “I have two people working for me now. The quality of my work is better, and I can use harder woods,” he said.

Next door to Mr. Jabber, an upholsterer uses a staple gun to attach cushioning and fabric onto a furniture frame made by Mr. Jabber.

The staple gun was fired with the use of a compressor that was powered by a $1,200 generator funded by a microgrant.

The generator is used by all the half-dozen businessmen on the street to power equipment and to supply lighting when city power isn’t available, which can be for hours each working day. One hour of city power for every three hours of blackout is considered a good day.

Like Mr. Jabber, the upholsterer has hired additional workers.

A metal craftsman down the road who used to fashion gates, guardrails and trimming with only a few hand tools has seen customer orders increase as his work improves.

He credits a microgrant that helped him purchase additional tools and an acetylene torch unit for smoother, more intricate shaping.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said he had hired workers also. And as with all grant recipients, he’ll later take on vocational apprentices from an anticipated program to give job training to neighborhood guards who don’t join the ranks of the Iraqi army or police.

Mr. Jabber and his Taribiyah neighborhood weren’t chosen to be the first to get the grants by accident, Capt. Allison said. “The people of Taribiyah all work in Taribiyah, and they shop in Taribiyah. Helping these businesses has a direct impact on the community.”

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