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New Program Helps Refugee Women Start Home Child Care Business

A new program helps refugees earn money by training stay-at-home moms to be entrepreneurs in the child care industry.

Every weekday, Iraqi refugee Nidhal Qaraghuli takes care of a toddler named Heidi.

“Now Heidi what this Heidi? What this picture, Heidi?”

Heidi comes from a low income family and the state pays Qaraghuli a portion of the rate to take care of her based on her parent’s income.

Heidi is one of two kids Quaraghuli watches as part of her small daycare business in her Manchester apartment. She received training last year from theInternational Institute, a Manchester organization that works with refugees.

 “The women who’ve gone through the training come from a variety of ethnicities. Bhutanese, Iraqi, Sudanese, Congolese, Burundi, Haitian…”

Jane Skantze coordinates the statewide program.

“Refugee women, traditionally, may not have ever had a job in their home countries or in the refugee camp and we’re taking skills that they have and showing them that these skills of being a homemaker or a stay-at-home mom are skills they can use as a business.”

Language can be one of the first challenges. So, the six week training includes basic English skills as well as coursework in child development and behavior. They also learn CPR, first aid and business skills.

After six weeks, the women attend a small graduation.

At a recent ceremony in Concord, a class of about 30 women from central Africa received their certificates.

Speaking through an interpreter at the ceremony, Benita Mazambi likened this process to sowing the fields in her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I’m not taking this training for granted because I know how challenging it is to come from a country as Congo, not being able to speak English, and actually just being in a position  where I can actually be successful in my own life.”

So far, more than 70 women have gone through the program in New Hampshire since it started last year. But that just gets them started. About 50 have gone on to get what’s called license exempt status from the state. That allows them to take care of three kids in addition to their own at home.

But it’s not easy. Only nine women have actually started a business and are taking care of kids.

Soon after the ceremony, program coordinator Jane Skantze meets with several of the graduates to inspect their homes for child safety. Like Aimee Nyabikundwa of Concord.

“So, your stove is gas and these are at children’s height so it would be good to have a cover to go over these…”

AN: “Cover?”

“I’ll show you a picture. It’s just plastic so kids can’t turn it on…”

Then they go through a catalog to select first aid kits, booster seats and so on. The International Institute provides the items. It also helps the women advertise their business and get in a referral network. But finding clients isn’t easy either.

BillMaddocks works with these kinds of microenterprise ventures at UNH’s Carsey Institute. He says the nature of the business may have limited demand outside the refugee community.

“It’s probably not something that’s going to reach a large scale, but if there’s a possibility to hire 15 or 20 women to become child care providers basically in business for themselves, then I think this is a really good strategy—particularly for women who are coming from cultures where working outside the home is difficult.”

In terms of how much money the state distributes for subsidized child care at such license exempt homes, it’s small: only 7%. But Ellen Wheatley with the Child Development Bureausays many seek out this kind of care for a variety of reasons.

“…whether they’re looking for a childcare that’s very much like their own language and their own culture or something that might enrich the child in a different way by finding a different culture or different language.”

The $274,000 federal grant that funds the program is due to run out in September. The International Institute hopes to renew it for another two years and help equip more women like Nidhal Qaraghuli to make money using skills they’ve already honed.

Before becoming a reporter for NHPR, Ryan devoted many months interning with The Exchange team, helping to produce their daily talk show. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in Manchester with a major in Politics and Society and a minor in Communication Arts. While in school, he also interned for a DC-based think tank. His interests include science fiction and international relations. Ryan is a life-long Manchester resident.
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