Inclusion Video story

Empowering women with skills for life

Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan sewing courses provide women like Bazargul a lifeline in tough times, made worse by the socioeconomic impacts of Covid-19

Bazargul never saw herself as a seamstress. “When I was young, I couldn’t even sew my own socks,” she says with a laugh.

Nor had Bazargul ever worked outside of her house, where she takes care of her six children. “They all go to school and it is very difficult to provide for them.”

Now, she proudly sits next to a sewing machine that she recently bought with money she earned at a sewing shop, and she dreams of starting her own sewing business with some of her children.

It’s a dramatic shift for Bazargul and her family, which like many families here in Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek, has been going through tough times for many years. When Covid-19 came to Kyrgyzstan last year, the pressure on Bazargul and her family to make ends meet increased dramatically.

“The main question for us was what to eat. I have a brother, and at times he had to bring us food.”

The additional income that she earns now as a seamstress at a sewing shop close to her home has provided an important boost to her husband’s salary at a construction site. “He has a very hard job.”

It all started one day after she got an auspicious visit from a friend. “She saw that I was sitting at home and not working,” Bazargul recalls with a laugh. “Then I found out that she enrolled me in a free seamstress course, without asking me.”

Then, the director of the sewing school called and invited Bazargul over to the school, which was created by the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan (RCSK) to help women in high vulnerability like single mothers, internal migrants and unemployed persons, and mothers with many children.

Bazargul sewing at home while her three children stand smiling by the door.

The sewing centres are not new. RCSK has been implementing activities to train vulnerable women on sewing skills courses for 18 years.  During the Covid-19 period, the IFRC also supported this activity as part of a global Covid-19 emergency appeal, which allowed the National Society to expand its offerings and even build a new sewing workshop.

There are now several sewing centres in Bishkek and in 7 other regions of the country. In just one four-month period between February and May of 2021, funded by the IFRC appeal, 534 women were trained.  Most of these women are employed now and implement income-generation activities at home supporting their families.

In addition to the sewing course, the women enrolled also get first-aid training, as well as information sessions on healthy lifestyles and infectious diseases like Covid-19, TB, HIV, blood donation and importance of immunization of children.

For Bazargul, the courses were an unexpected, life-changing event. “I was shocked that there are free courses,” she says. “I wanted to try and went there. I went to the courses after the Covid-19 lockdown for one month of training. I learned a lot.”

The school is directed by Aigul Omurzakova, who also is a teacher at the sewing school. “Our courses are in great demand,” she says. “They are very important to our participants because it’s opportunity to make a living.”

A design engineer by profession, it’s clear that Aigul is more than just a sewing instructor to Bazargul and the other women here. “I accepted her as my own sister,” says Bazargul. “She taught me and provided psychological support. Even now I am constantly in contact with her.”

At the centre, women not only learn how to sew. They get first-aid training, information sessions on healthy lifestyles and infectious diseases like Covid-19, TB, HIV, as well blood donation and importance of immunization of children.

Aigul has seen a change in Bazargul, not just in terms of her sewing skills.  “When she arrived, she was completely different,” says Aigul. “She seemed a little scared, more shy. “

Participating in the courses gave Bazargul the confidence to go looking for her own job. “As soon as I finished the courses, I immediately started looking for a job. I called a workshop nearby and they invited me to see my work and they told me to start the next day.

“Now we are sewing women’s clothes, and I really want to sew something for my children. I hope my children learn this skill so we can open a large sewing shop. I want to start this business and save up for a new house” she said with a hopeful expression.

“My mom once said that no one would help you, except yourself. If there are people like me, they should come to courses like this one. It turns out there are kind people. If you find a goal, then you must strive towards that goal.”

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