Amal Hilmi’s story resembles the story of many Arab women but with a slight difference. When the tough got going she had no choice but to fight against all odds and turn failing circumstances into success. Her determination, ambition and need for satisfaction forced her to find a career and become a thriving entrepreneur, running one of the most popular boutiques in Duren Germany.
Arab Woman Mag had the pleasure to talk to Amal and find out how she turned her life around,
How did your story start?
I came from an upper-middle class family, my parents worked very hard for me and my siblings to provide for us a decent life with focus on our education; like many Palestinians we believe that our education is our best weapon. Growing up I had lots of dreams, passions and a vibrant outgoing personality believing anything is possible. I loved interacting with people so studying Hotel management when I was in university seemed perfect. However during that time I met the love of my life. And my focus shifted from earning a degree to being with the man I’m in love with. Like many girls at the age of 20 the idea of a fairy tale romance was something I wanted, although now I know that back then I didn’t have the maturity needed to make a lifelong commitment. I was blinded by the picture perfect love story and fought all common sense, and i got what i wanted.
I was wed. and my husband and I decided to start our new life in Germany. At first I didn’t really comprehend what that meant; leaving the comfort of my family, the only home I have known all my life and found myself in a strange country with a man I just started to really get to know.
What was your experience like when you first moved to Germany?
At first it didn’t really sink in, it was a honey moon, sightseeing, going on adventures, having fun. Unlike other honey moons there was no going back home, we had to make this new world our home, so the fun turned to obstacles from looking for an apartment, processing legal paper work, and most of all struggling to communicate as we didn’t know a word of German. Weeks turned into months, and I was getting home sick by the minute, longing for the warmth of my parents, the chatting with my friends, the hours of study for my education, I missed it all. Yet I chose to be where I am, so I didn’t complain.
What were some of the challenges that faced you?
Like I said initially it was the language, not being able to communicate even for the simplest of things like buying bread. We enrolled in a language center and soon started to understand and converse better in German. Then I found out I was pregnant, at the same time that my husband’s wealth was depleting. Without speaking the language my husband couldn’t work, he tried to open his own business, several for that matter, but was taken advantage of and lost his investments. So we were living off of savings. First lesson I learned that no matter how much money one has if there isn’t more coming in eventually it will finish. Life started to get challenging. Maybe it was mismanagement, or not knowing better at the time, but we spent most of our savings.
What did you do to survive?
I really admire my husband, he is a very responsible man; he put his ego aside and went from being a successful business owner to looking for work, any work, as long as it provided a decent life for our family. Another lesson I learned is that when you are married your personal life is best be kept personal, if I shared my troubles with my family I am sure they would have done their best to help, but at the same time that could have caused trouble between me and my husband. I made choices and I had to accept their outcome, adding fuel to fire by complaining would have gotten me nowhere, in fact would have made things worse.
For many years it didn’t. I lost myself completely in my troubles, I forgot the vibrant bubbly Amal of long ago, all my dreams evaporated even more so after the birth of my daughter. My only desire and hope for the future I put on my kids. All my energy went into their education and raising them the best way I knew how. I made my dream my son, that one day he would grow up to be successful young man armed with the best education, he will be my savior. So I lived my days for him, his sister and my husband. But another lesson I learned later on is that no one can be your savior but yourself, you are the only person in charge of your happiness, success or failure.
Feeling the need to do something for myself to feel more fulfilled I went out in search of work. That was no easy task, almost all jobs in Germany require one to have some sort of higher education, and I had none. Rejection after another, and after many sleepless nights, I finally got a break. There was a leather boutique looking to hire a temp. assistant. My job was basically to help the sales team. You can’t imagine my happiness for finding such a job. I felt I too can do my part along with my husband and help turn some of my family’s dreams into reality. Every day I went to work I feared it would be my last, as this job was already done by someone else whom happened to go on vacation.
But I worked and worked and worked very hard, doing everything that was asked of me and more so. The shop owner noticed my dedication and realized I wasn’t like other employees, you see I was working to give my kids a comfortable life and give them more choices for their future, while others worked either for extra pocket money or as a hobby or to fill up their time. But my work was from the heart, so I worked long hours and never complained.
Again another lesson to share is when you do a job, do it the best way you know how no matter what, it will always pay back in return.
My employer started to trust me and give me more duties, and I took every opportunity to learn and learn. I didn’t just do the work, I noticed things, asked questions, took notes, I read a lot and educated myself on sales and marketing strategies, I learned everything there is to learn about leather, about what attracts a customer, how to make a successful sale, I learned how to use the cash register, how to write up bills, how to make orders with distributors, and even started putting my own designs for jackets. After a few years I became indispensable for my employer, I was his right hand, I became the store manager a job that requires a minimum of 6 years of higher education in Germany, I had others working under me.
How did you go from working for someone to becoming an entrepreneur?
After 8 years working as an employee learning all there is to know about being a successful store manager, working from 9 am till 10 pm daily and making lots of profit for my employer, it was time to open my own store. It wasn’t an easy decision, as working for someone else is less risky, ensuring a basic monthly income is always easier. But with the encouragement of my husband and family, believing in me and my capabilities I finally broke that fear barrier and partnered up with my brother and opened Pura Pelle my leather boutique a one of its kind in my area catering for women and men. It’s been 4 years since I opened my store and I am proud to say it is one of the most popular and prosperous stores around.
What advise would you give women going through difficult times?
My advice is be patient and find solutions. Don’t just put all your energy on your problem, find a solution for it. Don’t take things for granted, and do what needs to be done to help yourself. I always encouraged myself saying i can do this. Everything comes to an end, and difficult times will eventually pass, but it is what you get out of it that matters.
I learned from the German people order and being organized, Germans are very dedicated people when it comes to their work.
Today my children are all grown up; my son “once being my only dream” is indeed successful and top of his class earning his second BA and already starting his own business project. My daughter looks up to me as a role model and appreciates everything I did and still do. I made my parents proud and always have their blessings.
With God’s will and the support of my husband being so understanding, helpful and hard working together we changed our stars, and turned our lives around, hard times only made us closer as a family appreciating the little things before the big things. All those long hours of hard work made the taste of success even sweeter.
I feel so thankful and blessed, that I found a way to turn a small opportunity to a gate way for success. I learned to turn the I can’t into I can! And believe me when I say if could do it, most certainly you can too.
For this interview translated in Arabic click here:
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