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Young Kurdish Woman Finds Business Opportunities in Beauty

Young people in Kurdistan are embracing new opportunities to develop and expand their own businesses. Suzanne Presto speaks to one young woman who balances a family, two beauty salons and entrepreneurial classes - while planning to expand her beauty business in the northern city of Irbil.

Chnar Raza sets to her work in the beauty salon, expertly taking the scissors to a woman's long highlighted hair, chopping off four inches of length with each confident snip. The animated young Kurdish woman, with shiny raven hair and expertly applied dark eyeliner, has been in the beauty business for 11 years, since she left school as a 13-year-old with a desire to open her own salon.

Since 2002, Raza has been running the Rishma Salon. Her beauty shop sits on a busy street lined with low-lying buildings in Irbil's Newroz neighborhood.

She is so busy with clients that she is open from eight in the morning until eight at night, six or seven days each week, providing haircuts and styling, and applying brightly hued make-up to freshly washed faces, in the two salon chairs facing a long counter and mirror that make up her small salon.

The sound of the generator that provides electricity for the hairdryers whirs loudly outside the window, drowned out a bit by women chattering as hair dye takes hold and luminescent face creams seep into their pores. They line the benches along the length of the shop. It is warm, and the small salon smells of hairspray and heat.

Raza, a mother of two, says she always knew she wanted her own business. As a teenage newlywed, Raza sold her wedding gold to afford the rent for this salon space. She decided that gold in a safe would not benefit her or her family, but renting a salon and working in beauty just might.

Raza says her single shop was too small to accommodate all the members of large wedding parties and to meet the demands of her growing clientele. So she took money she earned from her first shop to open a second, slightly larger location nearby, called Milano.

And, the enterprising 24-year-old who spent only six years in formal education is back in the classroom. She is taking part in an entrepreneurial development and investment course offered for the first time by the Irbil Chamber of Commerce.

Raza says she wanted to learn a new set of business skills. She adds that many girls and women are able to do the work she does, but they do not always think about the future or about expanding their businesses.

One of her eight sisters, Suhela, a seamstress who runs her own dressmaking shop, is also taking this course.

They are two of the nine women and 21 men who attend this class, three hours per day, five days each week, for four weeks. They learn personal development skills, accounting, and ways to identify new clients and improve their marketing campaigns.

The Irbil Chamber of Commerce says it is offering the course jointly with Kurdistan's Board of Investment and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

The Chamber's president, Dara Jalil al-Khayat, says he is pleased to be able to offer a course that helps Kurdish people better their own economic circumstances.

"As the president of the Chamber of Commerce, I want success in this business," said Dara Jalil al-Khayat. "And we are very happy [that] for [the] first time, we have 30 people come [to] have training in this kind of business."

Raza says she wants to use her newfound skills to benefit her business, while beautifying and benefiting local women.

She says she hopes to expand her salon to offer additional services, such as laser and spa treatments. And she says she hopes to offer guidance to other young women who want to improve their situations in Kurdistan.