New Skills and Sewing Machines Help Earthquake Survivors Support their Families
The earthquake on October 8, 2005, turned 37-year-old Shahnaz Firdouz’s life upside down. “I went into complete shock,” says Shahnaz. “One of my daughters, Zainab, was killed when her school collapsed, and my husband was also badly injured by falling concrete and now can’t work any more. I didn’t even get to see Zainab being buried, because I was too much in shock with it all.”
The earthquake changed the lives of many women in Shahnaz’s village of Garlaat, near Balakot—the town closest to the quake’s epicenter. While they continue to struggle to come to terms with what happened, the International Rescue Committee is helping them provide for their families’ immediate needs and learn a new skill for the future.
The IRC donated 17 sewing machines, cloth and other materials to 25 women at a women’s empowerment center in Garlaat. The women are using the machines to sew tote bags for kits containing soap, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items the IRC distributes to local communities to help improve the health of earthquake survivors. This “cash-for-work” project benefits both the women, who receive 50 rupees for each bag they stitch, and the IRC, which gets high-quality supplies for its health programs.
IRC master trainers teach the women how to use the new machines and make the bags. They identify and mentor women like Shahnaz, who already have sewing skills, to become senior trainers and help pass these skills on to their colleagues once the master trainers have left.
“Some 2,000 bags have already been sent to Shangla and 1,000 more are ready to be delivered to Muzaffarabad within a week”, says Suleman Khan, IRC’s team leader in Mansehra district. “And the great thing is that, even after the cash-for-work project has ended, the women can use their new machines and skills to make their own livelihood.”
Suleman says that IRC carefully assessed needs in villages like Garlaat to ensure that the women who could benefit the most from the program were selected to participate. “This was very important for us,” he says, “so we could provide help to those to whom it would really make a difference.”
Life has been harsh for Shahnaz and many of her neighbors, but slowly things are beginning to improve. “The IRC’s cash-for-work project has given me a platform where I can use my skills and also save my children from starvation,” says Shahnaz. “Now that my husband can’t work anymore, it’s important that I can work and support my family. It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Shahnaz adds: “Now that tent schools have started again and are keeping my seven remaining children busy, I can work in a relaxed atmosphere. My elder son says he wants to become a doctor when he grows up. He wants to serve his community and nation well—just as he saw the international medical teams doing when they were here soon after the earthquake. To fulfill his dream, I need to save money. Hopefully, I can do that now.”
The International Rescue Committee has already helped 200 women through its cash-for-work projects at six women’s centers in the Mansehra, Balakot and Oghi districts of northern Pakistan, thanks to public donations to its earthquake response.