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Afghans in St. Louis have high hopes for the region’s new Afghan Chamber of Commerce

Andrea Henderson
St. Louis Public Radio
Sahar Hussaini, an Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Afghan Community Center board member, talks to visitors about the new center and how the center can help bring new businesses and jobs to the St. Louis region.

About 100 Afghan entrepreneurs, newly arrived Afghans and community members explored the new Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Afghan Community Center on Friday celebrating a place that could help Afghans start businesses in the St. Louis region and learn new skills.

The six-room center at 3611 S. Grand Blvd. is sponsored by the International Institute of St. Louis.

Members of the institute’s Afghan support team will teach English courses, entrepreneurship skills and financial literacy to Afghans who want to explore business opportunities.

The business center could help revitalize St. Louis and create opportunities for more refugees to come to the region, International Institute CEO and President Arrey Obenson said.

“We are not just welcoming Afghans, but we're building a community for them here,” he said.

Sulamin Kaymar found community in St. Louis when he arrived from Afghanistan in August 2021. He came to the United States after the fall of his country’s government.

New Afghan Community Center promises to support Afghan refugees in St. Louis
Moji Sidiqi and Gul Totakhil join St. Louis on the Air.

Many Afghans have trouble starting new businesses and resettling because they do not speak English well, he said.

As a project manager for Commerce Trust Company, Kaymar sees where Afghan entrepreneurs need assistance the most. He said many need help to properly file business licensing and registration paperwork, legal documents or their taxes.

Kaymar hopes new entrepreneurs feel empowered with the support of the chamber.

Subway restaurant franchise owner Gul Totakhil, who has been living in St. Louis for 30 years, said he has a strong network of support in St. Louis because of the institute. He tries to welcome other Afghans to the region because of its opportunities.

“The Afghan Chamber of Commerce is going to provide our community with key business resources and will build a strong network in partnership,” he said.

Totakhil pledged to help newly arriving refugees by creating connections to other business owners and investors. He also plans to help people market their products and services.

Sahar Hussaini, an artist who came to St. Louis three years ago, helped get the center ready by painting a girl wearing traditional Afghan clothing and holding a map of Afghanistan on the children’s room wall. She hopes children use the area to express themselves.

“When I first moved here, it was so difficult because of the new culture, new language, I did not know a single word in English,” said Hussani, 19. “So, who would be the best people to help them again? People who can relate to them, talk to them, know their language, know their pain.”

After graduating from St. Louis University in a few years, Hussaini wants to open her own arts organization that gives back to people from war-torn countries. She plans to use the center’s resources to start her business.

“I hope [the center] does well, and supports Afghans as they can,” she said. “Also just create new opportunities for Afghans and try to help the new Afghans have a better life.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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