As Batina works, deftly pushing and pulling red thread through cream felt, a growing flock of rams begins to materialize around her. Small and soft, the rams proudly bear the red Mercy Corps emblem on their sides. Soon they will make their way from Kyrgyzstan to the U.S. — from Batina’s home to caring Partners In Mercy monthly givers.
These felt rams serve as a small token of appreciation for the lifesaving work our monthly givers support in more than 40 countries around the world. They are also a symbol of everything that is possible when we work together. Batina’s business is just one example of how Mercy Corps supporters are transforming lives and lifting up communities.
In Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country in Central Asia, the rate of poverty is nearly 40 percent, and women and children are among the most vulnerable. Finding work can be difficult, and many people leave the country in an effort to make a living so they can send money home. Children and families living in poverty in Kyrgyzstan spend most of their money on food, and yet many children especially still suffer from malnutrition and stunting.
Thanks to a small loan from Mercy Corps, and years of hard work and persistence, Batina has created a successful small business that helps keep her family stable and healthy.
Batina works on crafting her famous felt rams. Since 2007, she’s made more than 20,000 rams for Mercy Corps.
The felt rams she handcrafts for Mercy Corps are the heart of that business. Since 2007, she’s made them to order each year. “There were over 20,000 rams made during this period,” she says. “The first year the amount of rams was 150, and the amount kept increasing year by year.”
The rams are well-known to everyone in Batina’s life. “All my family knows about my work with Mercy Corps, its work and mission in Kyrgyzstan and globally. They even ask me ‘Mom, when will you receive the order from Mercy Corps?’"
Each year when the Mercy Corps request for rams arrives, Batina knows she’ll have plenty of work to do. Her felt business runs with full support from her family — her husband and three children, aged 6, 16 and 19. She tells us that any time her work becomes especially busy, her family steps in to help her with anything she needs.
Batina with her husband and two of her children: Aiperi, age 6 and Kairat age 16. Batina and her husband both work, and her family is always there to support her business.
The idea for her business came when Batina was in art school nearly three decades ago. During that time her mother would sew and work with felt at home. “I was able to learn the whole process and realized that it is my calling,” she says. Turning her passion into a thriving livelihood wasn’t as easy. Batina practiced her craft and worked in a sewing room to provide for her family, but she knew she wanted something more.
“I realized that working in a sewing room is not exactly what I wanted to do in my life,” she says. Soon, Batina took a risk and started her felt business in 2001 with the support of Mercy Corps — gathering a small group of skilled women to work alongside her. They began by making small souvenir crafts for local stores, and have since expanded.
Batina and the women she works with craft felt rams, for Mercy Corps and for souvenir shops, and traditional felt house shoes. They are planning to expand their work to make traditional felt hats soon.
“Before doing this, it was difficult to provide for my family,” she says. “This job enabled me to provide support for my family, further develop my creative capacity. We were able to finish repair work on our house, which was not possible for a long time.”
Batina’s business has done more than just improve her life — she now leads a team of five other women, offering them steady pay and an opportunity to excel in this artistic line of work. In addition to the rams, Batina and her team make traditional felt house shoes and plan to expand their work to make traditional felt hats as well.
Thanks to her hard work and persistence, Batina and now five other local women have steady work that helps provide for their families.
It all started with a small business loan made possible by caring Mercy Corps supporters. Batina has done the hard work of making her business successful. She’s empowered other women in her community to succeed, too. But still, she’s grateful. “This job makes me feel happy and relaxed,” she says. “I have a team of five talented and creative women who found their way [to] financial independence and can provide for their families through the work that they love.”
“I would like to express my gratitude and deep appreciation for this job opportunity ... and to be involved in promoting Kyrgyzstan all over the world through my humble contribution.”
From Batina and all of us here at Mercy Corps, thank you for being a part of the global Mercy Corps community.
A small token of our appreciation, each felt ram is handmade by Batina and the women she works with, and passed on to you. Thank you for being a valued Partner In Mercy!
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