By Baktiar Mambetov, IFRC

Zamira, Larisa, Aizada and Nazira were struggling to provide for their loved ones. Widowed, in difficult economic situations, taking care of disabled family members or many children by themselves, they couldn’t make ends meet. But a Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent sewing course changed that.

“The opportunity to learn tailoring became a ray of hope for me. It’s useful for us, and I don’t feel lonely or depressed any more as I’m part of a good team. We help each other,” said Zamira Zhumagulova.

She is one of about 300 vulnerable women who have been trained and employed through the Skills Development Project of the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan this year, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). She was going through difficult times after being laid off from her job as a taxi dispatcher, but is now working regularly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought along wide-ranging socio-economic impacts in Kyrgyzstan, like in other countries around the world. Many people have been pushed into poverty after getting unemployed, and face challenges to cover their basic needs.

Thanks to the IFRC COVID-19 emergency appeal, the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan expanded the tailoring programme had been running for nine years with support from the Italian Red Cross into a more comprehensive training and livelihood support project, and that is making a huge difference for hundreds of vulnerable women.

The initiative changed Toloshova Nazira’s life. A single mother of a disabled girl, she was at first reluctant to leave her daughter at home with relatives or friends.

“I would constantly call home and ask how she was doing. Over time, I got used to it and could be more involved in the learning process,” she indicated.

The courses helped unleash Nazira’s potential as a seamstress. A month after completing the training, she got a job in an atelier and was able to earn enough money to pay for a treatment and rehabilitation course for her daughter. She is also running a sewing business from home.

As well as learning sewing, attendees are provided with food and clothing, and are taught about first aid and healthy lifestyles, infectious diseases, blood donation and the importance of vaccination.

The IFRC assistance also enabled the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan to set up a garment factory so vulnerable women could receive a stable income completing orders for domestic and international clients.

Ibragimova Larisa Samarbekovna, from Talas region, is one of them. A single mother of four, she lost her husband in 2006 to a chronic illness. After participating at one of the courses of the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan, she opened a mini workshop at home with help from her eldest children, and could even hire two of her classmates, including a single mother of two who is caring for a paralysed mother, Myrzakmatova Aizada.

For the last nine months, 30 women have been working at the factory in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.  They are primarily single mothers, women with large families, with special needs or disabled children, ex-TB patients or living with HIV.

“It is very encouraging to see how motivated and hard-working these trainees are. They are determined to learn and eager to work. Each one of them has a human story behind, sometimes a dramatic one. It is great that through this project, the Red Crescent Society gives vulnerable women the chance to gain new skills, generate income and support themselves and their families,” said the course trainer, Aigul Omurzakova.

With the COVID-19 pandemic far from over, the IFRC is aiming to shift from food aid and other material support to longer term endeavours that empower vulnerable people, increase their resilience, reduce their aid dependence and help them more efficiently in less acute, more protracted crisis scenarios.