My name is Fatma

A former child bride and displaced by the ISIL conflict, Fatma on how she rebuilt her life.

October 14, 2022
UNDP In Iraq

Fatma at her store.

Photo: World Vision

Fatma remembers the year she turned thirteen – she had just completed her fifth grade when her parents pressured her into an arranged marriage. She had never met him before. No one ever asked for her consent. She was robbed of her childhood and forced to drop out of school. "They didn't ask for my opinion. They were unfair to me.”

Fatma, now 49, has four children, the youngest is seven, and the eldest is 26. Originally from east Mosul, she moved to west Mosul after marriage. She lived there for over twenty-eight years until she was displaced during the ISIL conflict. 

In 2014, when ISIL took control of Mosul, Fatma and her family fled to Tel Kaif. They walked for over 85 km from Mosul. The idea was to drive to Erbil from there, but taxis were charging them around US$70. Unable to afford it, they returned to Mosul. After which, they lived under ISIL's control for over three years. 

However, in 2017, when the fight to retake the city from ISIL began, she lost her husband. "It was around midday, and we were having lunch in the front yard. During this, there were airstrikes. ISIL members were stationed outside our home. None of us dared to ask them to move. Suddenly we didn't feel anything, and the house collapsed. My daughter and husband were buried under rubble." Her husband passed away within a few hours of the airstrike. While her three-year-old daughter survived. "I took my daughter to the hospital immediately. She was in a coma for over forty days."

Fatma moved her family to Tel Kaif, distraught and devastated by the loss and trauma. Her husband, a daily wager, was the sole breadwinner. During their marriage, she was not allowed to work. However, after his passing, she was forced to find ways to make ends meet. She leaned on family members, the local mosque, and aid organizations to support her. She also received food rations from the government. "It was a challenging period. We were living on one meal a day."

Fatma was tired of borrowing and depending on others to make ends meet. She decided to take matters into her own hands. She started to explore business ideas and ways to restart her life. This was when she came across a business development and small-grant opportunity organized by UNDP and World Vision. 

During this, Fatma learned how to manage finances, customers and vendors. This was the first time she had learned something new after dropping out of school. She was excited. Confident with her new skills, she used the small grant to open a provision store. She strategically rented a store close to a school and residential area, attracting many customers.

Having tasted independence and self-reliance, this is only the begging for Fatma. Today she joined a savings group. Every week, she saves around US$14. She hopes to save enough to further expand her business. "With this store, my circumstances have changed. Before, I couldn't even buy fruit for my children. But now, it's different."

When Fatma first opened her store, she would get only twenty customers. Today, her business has expanded, and her loyal customer base has also grown. She receives over 50 to 60 customers every day. "The happiest moment of my life is now. I am living better than in the past. I am meeting my children's needs. It is most difficult when your children ask you for something, and you cannot do it for them."

Fatma feels proud of all that she achieved. As she best puts it, "I live with a strong will and with dignity."


The project is implemented by UNDP's Building Resilience through Employment Promotion project, in partnership with World Vision, with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provided through KFW Development Bank.

A version of the story was published by World Vision here.