Dress for success

Tajikistan, September 30, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Clay Westrope/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Gulshan Chorieva. Photo: Clay Westrope/Mercy Corps

Sitting in a room with four other girls, Gulshan Chorieva holds up a dress that she and the other sewing students have been working on under guidance of the master seamstress. In the brightly-lit room looking out over a small garden of colorful flowers and vegetables — typical of this part of Tajikistan — three sewing machines and scraps of fabric are strewn about in the chaos of work and instruction.

Ten years ago, Gulshan and her family were living with a relative, unable to afford a home of their own. One night a flood rushed through the home, destroying it and all of their possessions. Forced to move, they ventured to the village of Chkalov, outside the city of Shaartuz, and found shelter wherever it was available. Gulshan’s uncle eventually found them a plot of land on which they have slowly built a home. Mostly windowless and lacking a ceiling, the house that she and her family have built has been a work in progress ever since they moved here.

Seven years ago, Gulshan’s father become ill and died, leaving her, four sisters and their mother to support themselves. As young girls, Gulshan and her sisters helped their mother in the fields growing corn and wheat for sale or barter, as well as vegetables for their own use. Without another wage earner, it has been difficult for Gulshan’s mother to support the family and she has had to rely on help from relatives.

With sewing machines supplied by Mercy Corps and in partnership with the local non-governmental organization Mehrubon, Gulshan and other girls in Chkalov are studying to be master seamstresses under the guidance of skilled teachers from the village. Every day, these girls come to the master’s home to learn the craft and develop the skills necessary to begin a seamstress business.

Gulshan shyly, but with a sense of happiness in her eyes, says, “Because of this class I will be able to support my family.”

Her teacher offers reassuring information saying that, even after just two days of instruction, Gulshan has sewn dresses and sold them at the market for seven somoni (US$1.60) each. She explains that, once Gulshan has the skills of a master, she’ll be able to sell her dresses for many times more than this.