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World Bazaar PHX creates new opportunities for refugees

The World Bazaar PHX brings together cultures from around the world, including this traditional Burundian performance by the Komezakaranga Drummers.

Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

The World Bazaar PHX was a chance for refugee and immigrant business owners to not only sell their products, but also to learn. A place to see what types of merchandising work; to see what appeals to those who came to the outdoor market.

“The World Bazaar PHX exposes my products and (helps) the people get to know me,” said Perodin Bideri, the owner of B&R African Styles. He’s a regular at the World Bazaar PHX events in Phoenix. For him, the World Bazaar PHX is a chance to sell his products and an important component of his marketing plan.

That plan calls for getting as much exposure as possible to new potential customers. It’s not uncommon for people who buy his clothing, jewelry and scents at the Bazaar to show up at his shop in a west Phoenix market or to go online to order more products. “It’s both profitable and [good] marketing,” Bideri said of the Bazaar.

Magdy, a refugee from Egypt, sells his calligraphy at the World Bazaar PHX. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

The World Bazaar PHX is hosted jointly by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Phoenix, Fuerza Local Arizona, and the City of Phoenix, with support from Dunlap & Magee Property Management, Mountain Park Health Center, and Valley Metro.

Many of the participating vendors at the World Bazaar were clients of the International Rescue Committee’s Microenterprise Development (MED) program, which has helped over 200 refugees have start their own business. In the MED program, refugees can access both technical assistance, as well as small business loans.

The World Bazaar PHX is held twice a year: once in the spring, before the Arizona summer heat gets too intense, and again in early December. The latest event was the sixth and by most measures, the most successful. Over 60 refugee and immigrant vendors participated alongside 6 cultural performances, a new record! The attendance was the highest of any Bazaar to date, with thousands attending.

The Karen Culture Organization of Arizona performs a traditional dance at the World Bazaar PHX. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

The entertainment focus was on traditional performances. Participating in separate acts were the Grupo Bella Guatemala with traditional Guatemalan dances, dancers and drummers from the Karen Culture Organization of Arizona, and Mexican folklorico dancers from Trevor Browne High School. The Komezakaranga Drummers, a World Bazaar PHX fan favorite, entranced the audience with their traditional Burundian dancing and drumming.

On the vendor side, Bideri took the opportunity to talk informally with potential clients at his busy stand featuring clothing, jewelry and scents. He bantered with his customers and used his personality to encourage sales.

For Bideri, the Bazaar is a reminder of how far he’s come. Twelve years ago, he was an immigrant newly arrived from Burundi, an African nation. He had no English, not much education and hardly any resources. “I had to learn everything from scratch,” he said.

Perodin Bideri sells African clothing at the World Bazaar PHX. Photo: Stanford Prescott

Now, he is an American success story, saying that the United States is “the land of opportunity”. In addition to his B&R African Styles shop and participating in the World Bazaar PHX, he puts his products up for sale at street markets and fairs. The World Bazaar PHX, he said, is always among his most profitable outdoor events.

He intends to keep having a booth at the World Bazaar PHX. It’s been an important part of building his 3-year-old business. It also helps him in understanding the community and meeting new customers.

 “I get a chance to socialize with different cultures, meet with people and learn about different cultures.” Bideri said of the Bazaar.

Alexis Carbajal, co-owner of the Phoenix Coqui food truck is another World Bazaar vendor who finds that participating in the World Bazaar PHX makes good business sense.

Alexis Carbajal and his food truck, Phoenix Coqui, at the World Bazaar PHX. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

Carbajal described his normal business as a late-night food truck, catering to people leaving clubs and looking for food before heading home.

After hearing about the Bazaar, he and his partner decided to give it a try. “We said let’s get out into the community we serve and see the diversity,” Carbajal said. It’s worked for them; the December Bazaar was the fourth for Phoenix Coqui.

It’s been an opportunity to market the diversity that he and his business partner offer. “People don’t even know there’s Puerto Rican food in Phoenix!” Carbajal said.

Vendors also know that at the twice-a-year World Bazaar PHX, diversity is more than a cliché. The organizers want participants to reflect the vibrant face of immigration to the United States. That means drummers from Africa. It means dancers from Asia. It also means food from just about everywhere, clothing from Burundi, or herbs and vegetables grown in water at a school just down the street.

Attendees come from near and far to eat the food, buy the clothes and jewelry and chat with people who’ve grown up speaking different languages.

“It’s a nice event to come to, being new to Arizona,” said Beverly Madison.

A child plays with a flag at the World Bazaar PHX. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

Madison was among the first-time attendees at the Bazaar in December. She saw an announcement on Facebook and decided that World Bazaar PHX was an event where she could come to learn more about her adopted home. It was no casual decision for her: the Phoenix Light Rail parking lot where the Bazaar is held is 50 miles from her house.

The commitment to drive that far was worth it. “I like it -- the entertainment, the food,” she said, as she ate an empanada from the Phoenix Coqui truck. “It’s a community up-building.”

Keep an eye out for details regarding the next World Bazaar PHX in Spring 2019!

Story by Dennis Godfrey, Communications Volunteer. Photography by Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography.