DUBAI // More than 140 victims of domestic violence and human trafficking have received vocational training at a local shelter, learning skills to lift their confidence.
The women took classes in English, arts and crafts, sewing, fitness and make-up and hairstyling.
"The benefit was incredibly significant," said Ghanima Bahri, a counsellor at the shelter, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC). In the two years since the programme started, suicide attempts and fighting among shelter residents have "decreased significantly", she said.
The foundation now plans to extend the programme for another year, expanding its courses.
"I have other clients who have bachelor's or master's degrees and they are victims of domestic violence," said Afra Al Basti, the head of DFWAC. "I have to create something to support them."
The DFWAC has always offered occasional classes, but a 2010 sponsorship by Unilever's Fair & Lovely brand allowed them to create an organised programme, with courses led by experts.
The classes not only give the women skills, but help them socialise following their trauma, Ms Bahri said. "One way to let them heal is to find a good routine for them and take them out of their isolation and sadness."
The counsellor recalled one woman who could not speak English, Arabic or Urdu. Staff tried drawing pictures or using sign language to help her to open up, but they could not break through.
"She stayed in her room all the time," Ms Bahri said. Then the woman enrolled in the English class. "She started coming to the office and saying simple words like 'good morning'," the counsellor said.
Another woman was due to go back to her home country, but had no money. She enrolled in a crafts class and the foundation helped her sell some of her wares. "Even with a simple amount like Dh100, she felt that, 'now I have something'," Ms Bahri said.
Residents have even asked to lead their own workshops. "We have one Indian lady who asked to train ladies in henna," she said.
An Emirati client taught the others how to make a traditional incense called dokhoon. "It is not easy to pull a woman from depression into taking her to a class," Ms Al Basti said. "A lot of women, they refuse from the beginning to join any class." But when they start, "they keep on coming".