Ali Alkaam Inad: Starting a Business

Photo of man preparing flat breadAli Alkaam Inad

Starting a Business





Ali Alkaam Inad came to the U.S. as a refugee in November and is already putting his Ph.D. in Agriculture to work here. While taking a course at Washington State University, he is renting 2 acres of farmland from VIVA Farms. The Viva Farms Incubator Program began in June 2009 to provide new farmers affordable access to education, training and technical assistance; capital and credit; land and markets.

On his farm in Burlington, Ali has already planted regional vegetables and is growing a new type of white strawberry, all of which he plans to sell locally. One of the biggest differences between farming here and in Iraq is using modern techniques to reduce the amount of labor and reduce costs. Now, Ali uses weed cloth and mulch to cut down on weeds, which means he does not need to use tractors or heavy machinery to farm the land. With help from the Micro-E program, Ali has quickly transitioned from his job in Iraq and put his diverse expertise to use in the Puget Sound region.

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WSU News Article about Ali

“Flat Bread Lab: Newly Arrived Iraqi Farmers Explore Western Washington Wheat Opportunities”

Sarita Schaffer, WSU

Ali Inad and Ghazi Abood hail from the birthplace of wheat – the Fertile Crescent. Inad holds a PhD in Plant Breeding. He taught agriculture and researched wheat and maize at the University of Baghdad. Abood was a mechanical engineer. He received his training in Germany and has worked all over the world. Both men’s careers were upended by the Iraq war so they’ve come to the Pacific Northwest to put down new roots.

Over the winter Inad and Abood completed Washington State University Extension’s farm business planning course and in April they launched Ali’s Farm, a small acreage vegetable and berry farm at Viva Farms, Washington’s premier farm business incubator. Once established, they plan to scale up and grow wheat and other grains.

That’s where Dr. Stephen Jones and his Bread Lab come in.

Like Dr. Inad, Dr. Jones holds a PhD in plant breeding and specializes in wheat. As the director of WSU’s Mount Vernon Research and Extension Center, Jones has pioneered research on western Washington grain, emphasizing opportunities for local farmers to partner with the region’s artisan bakers, brewers and flour mills.

When WSU Immigrant Farms specialist and Viva Farms director Sarita Schaffer brought the two wheat breeders together, the conversation quickly turned to flat bread and samoon, Iraq’s most popular breads. Jones suggested that Inad and Abood invite a baker from their community to spend a day in the research center’s bread lab, to test how Western Washington flours performed against their current ingredients. Perhaps there was an opportunity for Inad and Abood to plant, or if necessary, breed wheat especially for the Puget Sound’s nascent flat bread market.

Around 2 million Iraqis fled their country between 2003 and 2011. Many are resettled in Europe, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. But the majority, an estimated 16,000 per year, are taken in by the United States.

Ali Alabdullah, the baker selected to partake in the Flat Bread Lab, was resettled in Everett. He drives commercial trucks as his primary occupation but bakes bread and cooks between driving gigs. “I’ve been cooking and baking for 30 years,” Alabdullah told us as he kneaded a batch of flat bread dough. “I have six sisters and five brothers so my mother was always cooking. I remember being swatted at for touching the bread. My first job was to flip the bread when it was done cooking.”

Dr. Jones looked over Ali Alabdullah’s shoulder as he mixed, kneaded, and shaped the dough. He studied the baker’s proportions of white versus whole wheat flour and asked him what qualities he looks for in his flour. What flavor and texture? How much elasticity? What strength? Dr. Jones showed Ali, Dr. Inad and Ghazi the sophisticated rheological testing equipment that gives the bread lab its Willy-Wonka flair: a farinograph that measures the dough’s sheer and viscosity, an alveograph that measures flexibility by inflating a bubble in a thin sheet of the dough until it bursts, a consistograph to calculate water absorption and strength, and a falling number machine that measures the amount of sprout damage that has occurred within a wheat sample.

So what’s the verdict? Is there flat bread wheat growing future in store for new Skagit Valley farmers like Inad and Abood?

The baker was delighted with the results. So were the researchers and graduate students who were drawn to the lab as the smell of fresh flat bread and samoon wafted down the halls of the research center. “I think you would have a larger market beyond just serving refugee families – I’d buy it!” exclaimed one taster.

For now, Inad and Abood will focus on the vegetable and berry crops they’ve planted at Viva Farms, including a rare white strawberry variety that Dr. Inad is growing from seed. But with the flat bread lab’s positive results, they see wheat fields in their future.

Issa Kamil: Buying a Home

Man wearing patterned shirtIssa Kamil

Buying a Home

Originally from Iraq, Issa and his wife and two children fled his home country in 2008 when the conflict around him became too much for his family to endure. “Like any refugee, you’re not wanting to leave your home. But you must move on when it gets too hard,” Issa says with his wife and children beside him.  Since completing his IDA savings in October 2012, his family has already seen a number of fortunate developments arise.

Issa maintains a monthly budget thanks to his financial literacy training, and has found hundreds of dollars in monthly savings since purchasing a townhouse in Everett, which has ended up being more cost-efficient than the rental apartment his family previously lived in. In addition, his wife Shirook is in the process of becoming a licensed family home childcare provider, and is on a clear path to licensure now that they no longer live in an above-ground apartment complex. “The children,” Issa says while laughing, “are just happy to have more space.”

Without hearing his story, you might mistake Issa and his family for any of the other workaday Americans calling this pristine block of townhomes in Everett home. The children seem happy and at peace in their new home, having water fights in the yard and taking walks with their parents to a nearby park in the summer. “Right now this place makes sense for us. We were happy in our apartment, but we actually love it here,” Issa says, smiling.

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Abel: Saving Money

Smiling manAbel

Saving Money

For young people like Abel, a 24-year old refugee from Eritrea, the prospect of starting from scratch in a new society on his own hit him suddenly. “You know, I think all people want to make success. But we struggle, all of us do. That was what I realized right away. That maybe I needed a little help,” Abel said.

Despite working full-time at SeaTac International Airport – a two hour daily bus commute from his residence in Shoreline, Washington – Abel showed a willingness to challenge himself further and reach for new goals. Last year, he signed up for evening classes at Seattle’s Evergreen Truck Driving School, which provides would-be freight operators with hands on training to pass the Washington state Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam. By signing up for the Diocese of Olympia’s IDA program, Abel got the opportunity to receive a grant that covered half the cost of tuition for the six-month long course.

“The class was very helpful. And it prepared me for what I needed to do next,” Abel said, smiling. “Start my own business.

Completing his IDA account gave Abel important benefits. For one, finishing the CDL course gave him the knowledge and skills he needed to succeed in a career in freight operation. Second, the financial discipline that he earned through completing his IDA savings plan gave him convenient entry into the diocesan micro-enterprise loan program. Since 2003, the RRO has managed a diocesan loan fund that, with help from RRO, allows qualified applicants to borrow micro-loans towards start-up businesses. Abel eagerly completed the required business planning coursework, credit counseling sessions, and market research offered by diocesan staff, becoming eligible for a $5,000 loan. Within a month of finishing his CDL course, he had already managed to get his trucking business off the ground, using his loan to invest in an FC2 Freightliner truck.

“I found a for-hire company in Seattle. So I’m ready to work for the Port (of Seattle), and anyone else,” Abel says laughing, standing beside his new truck.

While Abel’s example shows what great feats can be accomplished through an individual’s initiative to succeed, he is quick to give credit to the support he received from others. “All of the classes I took (at the Diocese of Olympia) really helped me – helped me to understand financial problems and the business world, and to spend my money the right way. And of course the grant, which gave me my education. So I’m just very thankful for all of the help I can get.”

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Yosief Gebrezgabhair: Learning English

Man wearing baseball capYosief Gebrezgabhair

Learning English

Yosief Gebrezgabhair grew up in Eritrea before coming to the U.S.A. in September of 2010. He came alone, leaving his wife and two children in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, as he looked for opportunity in the U.S.A. Suffice to say, Yosief had a lot to take care of. Learning the language, finding work, and sponsoring one’s family is a very tall order, but it was just another day in the life of Mr. Gebrezgabhair.

After about a year, Yosief was relieved to find out that he and his family would once again be reunited. When the rest of his family came to the U.S.A., his wife, Angeset, started attending ESL classes. Their kids would often come along as well, drawing pictures quietly while their parents learned.  Yosief’s brother, Efream, even came along and was a teacher’s aid for a long period of time. Efream helped pass out papers, correct homework, and tidy up the classroom, which was an immense help to the teachers.

Eventually, Yosief grew out of our ESL class and started looking for work. He took a job as a fish processor up in Alaska where he worked 12 hour days for eight months. Upon coming back, Yosief started helping out at the Refugee Resettlement Office, providing assistance to our case workers. He helped new refugees assimilate into our society by assisting them with everything from picking out furniture to teaching them to ride the bus. In a brief year and a half, Yosief went from a being new refugee himself to being a liaison to other new refugees. This incredible progression was spellbinding to witness and is inspiring to recall.

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Sheiko Bashir: Becoming a Citizen

Man standing in front of American FlagSheiko Bashir

Becoming a Citizen

Sheiko came to the U.S. in 2003 after fleeing Ethiopia’s political instability. Though not as challenging as his escape as a refugee, his path to becoming a U.S. citizen was difficult. It started early in 2011, when he first met Daniel. After failing the citizenship test two times, Sheiko tried a new approach to studying by listening to U.S. history cassette tapes in the car. Sheiko’s determination was rewarded, and after taking the test for a third time, he succeeded. He proudly became a U.S. citizen and voted in November for the first time.

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