Our editing office was touched by one project’s story. It is about young women from the small town of Istravshan, Tajikistan. Our journalists from “Asia Plus” and “Open Asia” went there. We decided to repost the material because the story is truly amazing and representative.
A small sewing factory. Subtle noise of machines stops once a day at lunchtime. All sewers are very thorough and careful. Seems like nothing unusual besides that that all the working women are deaf and mute…
Here is Sanam: she is 35, and she can’t hear from birth. She learned to “speak” relatively recently. She does not want to recall the time “before”: life locked up without a chance to communicate. Memories make the girl cry. Now, she speaks more than just sign language. She can also sew, and earn a living. All of this became possible with help of the project in the North of Tajikistan started by joint efforts of representatives of civil society, state institutions and local businesses.
You see, often local NGOs receive grants, organize seminars with coffee breaks, and when the money runs out, they write a new proposal and wait for a new grant. And although they reported on the spent money and the project was well written out, it was done with little benefit and no impact. This is not right,” – noted an employee of the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia.
How everything started…
In order to make everything properly and to see results, this Foundation built a strategy: they select the best public organizations in the regions. At first, they distribute smaller grants, then they consult and follow up on how grantees implement their projects, and then select the best to award bigger grants. The Foundation’s task is to support civil society initiatives, facilitate entrepreneurship, education and efficient management of local programs, and to mediate between the large international donors and local public organizations.
“Foundation for Social Development” has also gone through a similar filtering in the northern town of Istravshan, Tajikistan. In the beginning, they successfully implemented small projects and then focused on their main idea – establishment of a training workshop for the people with disabilities. For this project, they received a grant from USAID. Initially, nobody believed it was possible, because its implementation required joint work of representatives of civil society, state and businesses. It is a difficult task to bring them together. But gradually, everything worked out: regional authorities liked the idea, they found a businessman who supported it and finally, 20 young women with disabilities got jobs, education and some could “tell” what they felt for the first time in their lives.
Even before the workshop commenced, the deaf and mute women were taught sign language. From that moment, their lives radically changed: they could leave their homes and actively communicate, and found jobs.
Now in a small space, young women in white aprons and headscarves work at almost noiseless and new sewing machines. In one hall, they sew underwear for teenagers, in the other they pack and label the finished products, in the third they learn to do embroidery. It’s unusually silent in the rooms, but as their translator Maftuna asks them a question, it’s difficult to stop them – each has a story to tell.
For example, Sanam has a full family: a husband, who also has hearing disability and two kids who can hear. She explains that she knew some sign language, but then lost it; her husband never knew sign language. “I sat at home and it was very bad. I did not go out, I did not work, just did my housework. I did connect to anyone, because I was not able to. My husband was not able to communicate, he never could. Nobody talked to us and between us we did not communicate. It was so bad. Now I learn here and at home I teach my husband. I also learned how to sew, found friends and I will also be getting a wage, shared Sanam.
The mother of 18-year-old Nigina who packs and label finished products tells us how the girls’ lives changed:
Sometimes I come to visit my daughter, because before she did not go out and was bored within the four walls. She feels good here, she even changed; every day she comes home happy. I am happy too”.
Before they came here, many young women have never been to the mountains. Now we organize team buildings and picnics outside of the town. They are only starting to enjoy real life”, – said Nozir Barhriddinov, a worker of “Foundation for Development of Society”.
New life, new opportunities
The wage that the girls will be receiving for their work is a great help for them. Average disability welfare for deaf and mute people in Tajikistan is 130 to 180 somoni (approximately, $14 – $20). In the new factory, they will be receiving 600 somoni ($68). Their working day in accordance with legislation can be four hours a day. During other hours, they will be studying – learning sign language, and learning learn new sewing skills including embroidery, treatment of fabrics, and computer skills. They have classes and instructors for all of this.
The best workers
Everyone took part in building the model for the factory. “Foundation for Development of Society” brought up the idea, and “Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia” staff developed its business plan. Space was provided by the municipality, training was provided by the Center for Employment under the Ministry of Education, and equipment was co-funded by a USAID grant and contributions from businessman Mumin Fazilov. Fazilov also provides raw materials and organizes sales of the finished products.
Fazilov has a large knitting factory in Istravshan that sells under the “Nohid” brand. The factory runs a full cycle of production. They only bring in yarn for manufacturing. The business is going well, and the products of the factory are sold at “Ashan” supermarket in Dushanbe. This means that the product satisfies all the necessary quality criteria and all paperwork is fine. Fazilov did not have other visible reasons to expand his manufacturing, but he still found the project interesting.
I liked it immediately, we decided to give it a try. Because these girls are absolutely normal, they only have difficulties hearing but they can and want to work. They only need help,” – said Mumin Fazilov.
So far Fazilov does not gain large profits from the operations of the workshop. According to Tajik legislation, tax privileges are only applicable to enterprises where 51% of all employees have disabilities. Fazilov’s factory employs one hundred people, and the workshop employs only 20 young women, so getting tax privileges would require him to hire significantly more people with disabilities.
Fazilov says: “We are thinking about expanding the number of employees with disabilities in the future. Why not? Such manufacturing will be beneficial for everyone involved in the process. Besides, I watch how the girls work and I like it: they do very well, they are trying their hardest and are grateful.”
Currently, the workshop employees sew elements of underwear garments delivered from “Nohid” factory, and then pack them. Each package has a label that the product has was manufactured by people with disabilities and Fazilov plans for these products to get to “Ashan.”
“We would like that after implementation of the project, these people can start their own projects.”
Bahtiyor Abdujaborov, head of public organization “Foundation for Development of Society,” explains that the idea to establish such a sewing factory appeared a long time ago.
We have been working with people with disabilities, including the deaf and mute, for the past five years. These people can do their job easily, they only need some training. However, they are isolated from society. The quality of life could be better and they don’t produce any good for the state. That’s when we decided that we should do something about it with it,” – noted Abdujaborov.
By his account, the Foundation rejected an idea to start a project where people with disabilities would benefit and remain dependent on it. Moreover, there is information that there are about 300 people with hearing disabilities in Istravshan and the neighboring regions.
We reached out for help to the Center of People’s Employment under the Ministry of Labor, to organize sewing training courses. The state supported it, all young women got training and received state certificates that confirm their professional skills. By the way these certificates are even accredited abroad; in Russian for example,” – Bahtiyor continues.
But that’s not all. In the project’s framework, the sewing factory will be operating for three years, as was agreed in a contract between the Foundation and Fazilov. After the contract’s expiration all equipment will be handed over to the public organization that was established during realization of the project. This organization is named “Foundation for development of people with disabilities”. The foundation is 50% owned by people with disabilities.
We hope that after the project is finished, these people are not left without anything in hand, but that they can continue their own projects. They can do it: the foundation has been laid, the whole process has begun,” – explains Bahtiyor Abdujaborov. – When we started working with them, we say how sensitive and smart these people are. They can bring a lot of benefit for the state, and significantly improve their own lives. We think this is the main task of the public organizations: to change ordinary people’s lives for the better and help their country. And to do this from a long-term perspective,” – added Abdujaborov.