We hear a lot from community leaders and elected officials about wanting a diverse workforce and lending a helping hand to immigrants and the thousands of refugees who come here from far-away continents and cultures to make a go of it in Idaho.
Just as all of our ancestors once did.
We hope you can take a moment to drive by the burned-out site of the Boise International Market at Franklin and Curtis roads that was home to 16 small business vendors until fire Saturday consumed everything, including the dreams of Abdul Mukomwa and his wife, Kutukira Mberwa. They sold mostly jewelry, sandals, clothing (especially for infants) — all fashioned in their native Tanzania to help pay the bills for them and their three toddlers.
Earlier this week Mukomwa and fellow business tenant Prem Subba — who hails from Nepal and who sold Nepali groceries such as red rice at the market — lingered around the burn site lamenting their fate as salvage crews created strategies for the clean-up beyond yellow caution tape that always signals something bad.
They need our continued help, Boise.
“The business owners affected by the devastating fire are true examples of the American dream,” said Jim Munkres, marketing and communication specialist for the nonprofit META (MicroEnterprise ) program that has worked closely with most of the businesses in the market. “These people have worked hard to build better lives for their families. Any support the people of Boise can offer them as they get back on their feet is appreciated.”
The concentrated smell of a ruinous fire and the blackened hole that once held dancers and diners and these new American dreamers has all but choked away the promise of their multicultural entrepreneurial incubator. The market held every ounce of hope Mukomwa and Subba had to get ahead.
Subba, who has been in town for about five years, came to his shop to sell the rice and other goods after his long shifts as a barista for a Boise Airport coffee shop. Mukomwa, who has lived here for 11 years, went to the market to assist his wife after shifts at his janitorial job.
Mukomwa regrets not purchasing the proper insurance — he simply could not afford it. He estimates that $50,000 in inventory went up in smoke at his family’s Loba African Fashions. “This, is a learning curve,” he said.
Both merchants are grateful to be in Boise, to have been fortunate to have even been able to purchase a lottery ticket for success in America. They are moved nearly to tears that the community is making donations in GoFundMe accounts which, at this writing, were well on their way to raising an initial $50,000 goal.
No one knows how far the the community generosity will go to meet all the needs. Though a system for distributing the money is in the works — the exact accounting of the losses may never be known. All of Mukomwa’s records, for instance, burned with his merchandise.
Mukomwa and some of the others are wary of borrowing money to start over. A new line of credit piled on top of this devastating loss is not something they want to burden their families with now.
They say they may be able to make arrangements with friends and family to replace some of the destroyed inventory, but what they really need now is a temporary space to conduct business — preferably somewhere up on the Bench.
So, there’s our challenge, Boise.
The mostly refugee merchants at the Boise International Market need and appreciate your generous donations. But they can begin to inch their way back sooner if they have a space with power and a roof over their heads to start up again in the interim. Out of these ashes and dark circumstances, hope and hard work can still prevail.
Since this is Boise, we have faith this can happen.
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