• Maha Akbar | Media and Communications Officer, IOM Pakistan.

Peshawar, Pakistan - Saba Bibi, a 35-year-old Afghan migrant residing in Peshawar, Pakistan, faced challenges when her husband, who worked as a daily wage labourer for six years, struggled to find consistent employment due to his chronic illness.

In the hope of pulling her family out of the morass, Saba decided to take matters into her own hands.

One day, as she prepared a pot of mantoo, a traditional Afghan beef dumpling, it dawned on her that she could ask her husband to sell them on the street. To their delight, the sale was a success, and he managed to sell the entire batch. Encouraged by this achievement and Saba’s newfound confidence in her culinary skills, her husband began selling mantoo from a street cart.

Nevertheless, despite both working long hours every day, their combined income fell short of covering their children's education expenses. Such pressure was further exacerbated by the challenges of rising inflation and escalating utility bills.

Through her community, Saba learnt one day that a business training was available in her area. She thenregistered herself for IOM’s Individual Livelihood Assistance Programme (ILA). Funded by the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, ILA aims to support the provision of targeted livelihoods assistance to individuals who possess existing skills and experience in business, those encountering challenges in initiating a micro-business, or those lacking professional skills to access the labour market. Under ILA, IOM provides Business Support Packages (BSP), which encompass Business Development Service (BDS) training for vulnerable Afghans and host community members. The initiative focuses on the essential soft skills necessary for the establishment and management of micro-businesses.  

Upon being selected to participate, Saba was provided with business management and finance training, where she encountered other Afghan women planing to launch their own businesses in Pakistan with IOM’s support. At the end, she delivered a business plan to expand her mantoo business.

With the financial support from IOM as part of the training, Saba transitioned their business from a cart to a small, rented shop. Working alongside Saba, her husband also left his daily wage job to contribute to the expansion of their shop. The grant facilitated the purchase of essential cooking

Two batches of freshly made mantoos are ready to be steamed in Saba's kitchen, soon to be served in the restaurant. [Maha Akbar/IOM 2024]

Before receiving the grant, Saba spent a significant portion of her day peeling approximately 30 kilograms of onions. With the aid of new machinery acquired through the grant, she can now produce mantoo more efficiently, without wasting excessive time on onion peeling. Moreover, the grant contributed to improved seating arrangements and enhanced hygiene standards,attracting more customers. These changes allowed the couple to have a substantial increase in daily income from 500 PKR (2 USD) to 2,000 PKR (7 USD).

Saba’s son and employee begin preparing to serve customers ahead of busy lunchtime. [Maha Akbar/IOM 2024]

Nearly a year since the shop opened its door, the surge in business demand had enabled Saba to hire three additional female workers to assist her in the kitchen.

As a result of her hard work and IOM’s support, Saba managed to alleviate some of her family's debts and afford education for her children. With aspirations for further expansion, she plans to diversify her business by also introducing fast food, ice cream and juices.

"In our community, women are often confined to stereotypical roles within the kitchen. Nevertheless, I take pride in defying these stereotypes and harnessing my culinary skills to feed my family and the people of Peshawar. As the primary breadwinner, my kitchen symbolizes empowerment and sustenance,” expressed Saba.

This story was written by Maha Akbar, Media and Communications Officer, IOM Pakistan.

SDG 1 - No Poverty
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities