Last week I visited Mercy Corps’ first youth employment project to get started under the Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program, the program I’m assisting with this summer. In the sweltering heat, we entered a small room with five girls working away on sewing machines. The instructor constantly wiped sweat away from her brow as she talked to us about the program.
Over 80 girls from the impoverished area of Shaartuz, in the lower part of Tajikistan, applied for this training. Twenty were selected based on their need and their completion of 11th grade. The instructor told us it’s important to ensure they complete 11th grade because otherwise girls or their families will want to leave school early to complete this training.
Two stories in particular touched me from this visit. There was a 20-year-old woman sitting in the front row who proudly showed off the dress she was wearing, which she had sewn herself. It was visible that this course had improved her self-esteem, something that will translate into innumerable improvements in her life.
The second was a young woman working quietly in the back row. She told us that her husband had gone to Russia for work, a fairly common situation and one sort-of pushed by the state. Unfortunately he never came back and she has two children at home to care for. She was looking forward to finishing this three-month course so that she could take out a small loan from a microfinance institute and buy a sewing machine to start her own business. This sewing school offers business planning assistance, including help on finding financial assistance.
It’s inspiring to see the ways that Mercy Corps projects can empower women and help improve the economy at the same time.