Once upon a time, Yobel was invited to join our friends of Shining Light International in an incredible adventure to Pakistan. While we were there, we had the opportunity to meet the most amazingly beautiful women coming from a variety of religious, educational, and economic backgrounds who gathered together in the name of...you guessed it….FASHION.
That’s right. Women will be women no matter where they happen to live in the world.
Asked to help a vocational training center take it’s first steps toward turning sewing and embroidery skills into a business for Christian and Muslim women alike, we came packing basic lessons in design, quality control, customer service, and budgeting. Our first days of training were daunting. Despite our warmest smiles and silliest games, these sweet ladies were afraid to let new people in. Many covered their heads in embarrassment timidity, or lack of confidence.
By day 3 however, you would barely recognize our training room as the same group of women. Formerly bashful women let their headcovers go free with new life, the joy of being seen, the freedom to dream for themselves. They danced, they laughed, they volunteered, the dared to DREAM.
We did our best to teach them about fashion design and business, with only a hope that they could soak in the flood of information; find a slice of hope themselves and become more than they ever realized they could be!
Well, we've just heard back from them. Our 6-month follow-up surveys have returned along with Shining Light directors from a recent trip to Gilgit. And the results are….well, rather different than we expected.
As a white American woman, the opportunities available to me are so very different than those offered to my sweet friends across the globe. The region they live in does nothing to promote women as business owners. A female’s value seems to be archaically found in whom they are eligible to marry and how many children they are able to bear. Not that marriage and childbearing lack honor - not at all - we love husbands and babies. But we believe women offer so much more than that on so many different levels - especially when they are living out their innate creativity.
Additionally, Gilgit shuts down during the winter due to bijli nahi (no electricity) and the freezing temperatures that their beautiful Karakorum mountains hold for them. Work in general slides to an all time low from January through March. With our autumn training completed a few short weeks before religious and national holidays, there was little time for the women to pursue their newfound hopes of burgeoning business.
Upon receiving the ladies’ survey responses, we were able to hear how things are really going. We have discovered just how much the women can't seem to stop thinking about their newly acquired skills with an amazing 84% sharing all the information they learned with family and friends. They are asking for MORE, for practice, for help. While the steps to creating their own products and designs may be numerous, they have not let go of the very thing no one can take from them….their knowledge. 50% of the women interviewed are now contributing to their families with the design and production of new clothes.
Two brand new women-owned businesses have been created, and three established businesses have grown more profitable.
“After this training there is big revolution in my life and I have started my own business (sewing center). I have learnt many things like color schemes and designing. I was really very encouraged after attending this training and I have applied these new ideas to my business. Through this training I came to know how to utilize my abilities and also am now fulfilling my needs by my own.” - Masooma, 20
All women who were bringing an income to their families have boosted their earnings by an average of 73%, with 14% of that coming from local markets alone. Our favorite discovery of this training? 31% of the women spoke boldly of the CONFIDENCE they have gained through the opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills.
“Yes my life changed a lot because before doing this training I was not able to understand the way of business. I become self confident and want to improve my life. I shared all with my family and friends and many others because I also want to change their life.” - Kalsoom, 17
There is so much hope! Hope of continued relationship, return trips for further training, additional consulting, and the opportunity to walk alongside these people as they begin to take the first steps toward living out empowerment. These women will continue to build a foundation which will elevate the status of Pakistani women, create unity between people of different beliefs, and grow understanding of their true worth and value as those who are deeply and truly loved.