Lauren Moye, FISM NEWS
$100 a month may not be a lot of money in the U.S. To a group of widows and mothers in Iraq, it is an indispensable blessing. That’s the amount of money each of the 10 women makes as they partner together to run their town’s first bakery. It’s just one way that Samaritan’s Purse has positively influenced and empowered these women.
Maria’s Bakery is still a relatively new business located in a small Iraqi town on the Nineveh Plains where the women don’t usually work outside their homes. However, Samaritan’s Purse has taken steps to help women – including the single mothers and widows who primarily make up the bakery partnership – take their skills and talents into a “hopeful future” through women’s vocational training.
The women of Maria’s Bakery are graduates of this program who also received a $3,000 grant from Samaritan’s Purse to help them establish their new business. They specialize in wedding bread, sandwich bread, and an Iraqi pastry called kulicha. The bakery sells out twice a day.
“This program is about restoration,” said project coordinator Sarah Finkbeiner, “restoring women and their skills, gifts, and talents from hard pasts to a hopeful future.”
The Iraqi women have adopted this philosophy, and it shows in the business’s name. The leader of the women, whom Samaritan’s Purse renamed Farah for security purposes, had a daughter go missing years ago. The bakery shares a name with this daughter “as a gift” from the other nine women to Farah.
Farah is not unique among the women of the Iraqi town. Finkbeiner said, “Some of them lived under ISIS control; others had to flee. So they’ve had hard pasts, hard histories. They’ve lost family members and loved ones. But they’re very resilient and have come together, continuing to work and participate in their communities and provide for their families.”
Samaritan’s Purse has operated the women’s vocational training program in Ninevah Plains since 2019. They began with kitchen garden seeds, pickling, and canning. They also teach basic literacy skills and marketing. For example, Maria’s Bakery coordinates aprons among all ten women and also taught them to use a large banner sign as an advertisement.
Sarah said the program was important to the women. “This helps them see that they can add value to their community, that they have skills and talents and worth.”
Samaritan’s Purse has been branded as ‘homophobic’ in recent years for holding to a traditional Christian view of marriage. The organization made headlines during the Covid-19 pandemic for rejecting volunteers at a New York City field hospital who would not sign the organization’s statement of faith. This faith requirement only extended to workers while zero discrimination occurred in administering medical aid.
Despite this, the homophobic slander has prompted grassroots social media campaigns discouraging financial support and participation in classic Samaritan Purse programs like Operation Christmas Child. Before an individual makes this decision, one should keep in mind that there are many ways this organization makes a powerful and long-lasting impact on communities around the world.
The women of Maria’s Bakery, along with 44 other groups of women on the Nineveh Plains, are all better prepared to take care of their families thanks to the women’s vocational training program.