Pakistan - land of extremes, land of beauty. If only you could have been here with us and witnessed for yourselves all that has taken place in such a short time! As we sit here in the capital city of Islamabad contemplating our past couple of weeks, we decided we couldn't wait another day to share the immensity of hope and joy that we have experienced here in this nation. Our hearts are overflowing.
39 women attended Shining Light's Lifestitch Empowerement Training this past week, spending 6 hours each day learning color and design principles along with fundamental business skills. Of these, 23 graduated from the full Business Training and 39 from the Quality Control and Design Course, now competent in budgeting, savings, and customer service skills among many other important ideals.
Our training class was filled with lovely women aged 14-40 from a variety of backgrounds, including 4 different religious sects. Of the 39 ladies, 50% had the equivalent of a high school education, 30% had zero formal education, and only 10% had any kind of previous experience running a business.
Most of these women have been participating in a vocational technical training center as a part of Shining Light Pakistan in the mountainous community of Gilgit, which offers professional skills-training in weaving, tailoring and embroidery work as well as Urdu literacy classes. The center exists for three reasons:
1) To provide a place for both Muslim and Christian women to be able to leave their walled homes and come together in order to realize that they are not lower to men, but equals.
2) To teach the women different skills which will help them to run small businesses. Profit from these businesses will help their families out of poverty and gain them more favor, respect and honor.
3) To bring harmony between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority and help to end discrimination and persecution.
Approximately 300 women have been trained in this facility since 2007, and now it is time for some to begin using their skills to start small businesses.
"They have the skills in their hands, and now they can use that skill to get some income generation. This will help their families and give the women a reason not to just sit at home."
- Shining Light Director, Sajjad
We kicked off the training with our "Dream Big" session, encouraging women who have never been given the opportunity to dream for themselves to imagine the kind of future they would want for their families and community. We were pretty impressed with what they came up with, considering how little practice they had previously!
One lovely lady dreams of owning a business in her own name, instead of one where people say, "Oh that's the business of so-and-so's wife."
Another longs for peace in her community praying, "God put your love in the hearts of the terrorists so that they may also learn to love others."
Several illiterate women dream of educating their children in order to provide a better hope for the future than they had themselves.
"My father died when I was in school and there was no money for me to finish, so I left and had to get married. I have so many dreams for my children and I will make sure they are educated."
- Nida, age 17
Farnaz wants to open a business that will allow her to spend her profits helping orphans. 15 year-old Kalsoom wants to open a women's clothing shop that will serve the poor.
These ladies sure know how to inspire, and we believe that their dreams will be realized!
The concepts they took away from training will assist them as they take steps to achieve what they hope for. 50% learned how to create a budget for their business and household for the first time, 36% believe that the teaching on customer service will allow them to build future customer loyalty, 30% learned they were capable of designing for themselves, and 23% said that they will begin saving for their businesses and families.
"If we keep a monthly budget and save our money, we will not want for anything. We will always have what we need in an emergency."
-Saraphen, mother of 5
But the best thing we heard came from the lips of nearly every woman:
"First we didn't know anything about business, but now we have learned many things. We have developed trust in ourselves. From this training I am very encouraged and now I know I can open my own business. We can face obstacles with full determination. We can do anything."
We finished our time with a beautiful graduation celebration, complete with certificates, story telling and much dancing. We had the great privilege of speaking dignity, worth and value over these women. Sharing with them that they were created perfectly and on purpose to join in great things.
In fact, that may have been our favorite part of training (as well as theirs). One girl listed her best memory to be the time when Julia hugged her.
You see, business training is simply one part of what we get to do. The real goodness happens when we are given the blessing of sharing life with people and allowing the love we have to flow freely over them. What a gift for us!
Our final two days in Gilgit were spent in design, product production and materials gathering from the local bazaar. And along with our sad goodbyes, Yobel Market handed in our first official 'Order for Export' to Lifestitch manufacturing facility the day we departed. We are eagerly expecting its fulfillment in time for the upcoming Christmas season!
To conclude, this trip was truly the stuff of dreams. From the landscape, to the culture; the warmth of the people (as well as the food) and the partnership of our gracious hosts, we have been blessed. We look eagerly toward our next opportunity to put our feet in this place and are so thankful for the grace given to join in this beautiful work.
We are so grateful to those who continually support and encourage what Yobel gets to be a part of in Uganda, India, Mexico, Costa Rica and now Pakistan. People's lives are forever changing, and it takes each of us doing what we do best in order for that to happen.