Becoming Lami Autobody
Lami Autobody is tucked into a secluded corner off of Powell street in Southeast Portland where its yellow fence borders suburban neighborhoods, lush vegetation and thousands of daily passerbys. Despite its central location, the shop effortly blends into the cityscape. For Mazin, the shop’s unassuming presence is of no concern. His work is not done with hopes of compounding wealth or expanding to new locations — it’s done to give back.
Mazin held a good job in Iraq as a security guard before he was forced to flee his home. Neighborhood tensions led to the arson of his house and the loss of his father, making it unsafe for his family to stay. When he arrived in Portland as a refugee, he moved in with his brother and spent time reflecting on all he had left behind. He felt jealous. Around Portland he saw successful and clever people who had found success amidst their struggle. It didn’t take long for his lament to turn into motivation as a sense of clarity came to mind: “I don’t want anyone to be better than me. God has given us hands, we have to do something with them. If something doesn’t work at first, I work harder until it does,” he shares.
From a young age, Mazin loved working with his hands to build and create. Before working as a security guard he worked in Iraq as a military fighter jet mechanic. He can list the exact model of the planes he worked on and the work that was done — it is all second nature to him. Despite this talent, adjusting to his new life was at the center of his thought process — starting with finding a car.
Mazin bought his first car off the street and decided to fix it himself. “The guy sold it to me for $800, which I paid for with borrowed funds from my brother because I honestly didn’t have the money myself at that time,” he shares. Several weeks later he learned that the title was salvaged. Mazin continued to mend the damage until he had restored the car to new and sold the car for $1,700. He returned the money he borrowed from his brother and saved the rest for himself. “And then I bought another car, and another car … that’s how my business started.”
Building his business
Mazin learned about a Mercy Corps Northwest program that would give him the extra funds he needed to start his shop. The program required Mazin to save $84 a month for a year in return for a grant to match his earnings. In 2015, he received $5,000 to match $1,000 in savings to open his first shop.
The program was the strike of luck Mazin had been searching for — as soon as his shop was up and running he quickly got to work. This time, however, Mazin felt overwhelmed by the support given to him. It was clear to him that he was meant to be right where he was, and that just as he had received support when he needed it most, it was now time for him to pay it back.
“It was now my turn to help others,” he says. “I started to buy cars from auctions, fix them, and sell them to people with a low income. I even work to make payment plans for them,” he says.
Once he began giving back, his business flourished.
In 2018, with an increasing demand for his services, Mazin and his family had outgrown their first workshop. He quickly searched for space to increase the number of cars they could repair, and in return, the number of families that could now afford to own one.
“One of my customers took their car to four different shops and all of them said it couldn’t be repaired. I’m fixing it right now,” he says.
In the same year, Mazin moved to the new shop that he proudly shows off to customers, visitors and his family. The lot of the new auto shop is lined with 15 cars that are waiting to be fixed through his service. As his clientele grows, he continues to think of ways to make his work more efficient.
Mazin returned to Mercy Corps Northwest at the end of 2018 to secure an alternative loan to buy a Blackhawk frame machine. The jobs that he couldn't take on were now within reach. “I now make more money, at least two or three times more than I did before,” says Mazin.
Mazin attributes his successes as a result of strength and determination.“Many people want to start a business, but they don’t know what to do. The first step is to come to Mercy Corps Northwest and learn about what it takes.”
To visit Lami Autobody, call Mazin at 503-734-7885. Mazin speaks Arabic and is improving his English day-by-day.