x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dubai volunteer group helps women in poverty in Kashmir to start their own businesses

For the past four years young women from the town of Kotli, in the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir, have been encouraged to start their own businesses thanks to a project supported by Monyati Initiatives.

DUBAI // A voluntary group in Dubai is helping to empower women in a deprived community in Kashmir.

Young women from the town of Kotli, in the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir, are getting the tools and training to start their own businesses thanks to a project supported by Monyati Initiatives.

The group provides them with the skills and knowledge they need to make and sell clothing, helping to lift their families out of poverty.

“We are working in partnership with a local non-governmental organisation and it has proved to be a very popular project,” said Monja Wolf, the founder of Monyati Initiatives.

The project, which launched in 2009, has helped about 550 women from the town and surrounding areas so far.

“The key thing we are trying to do is to give women an opportunity to make a future for themselves and their families,” said Ms Wolf, a German businesswoman based in Abu Dhabi.

Monyati Initiatives set up a centre in Kotli to hold training classes where groups of women and girls, some as young as 14, are taught basic cutting, hand-stitching and embroidery.

“The courses are six months long and during that time they have to attend classes from the morning to about 3pm five days a week,” Ms Wolf said.

“We have a teacher who teaches them not only about how to operate the sewing machines, but also on how to run a business effectively once they complete the course.”

At the end of the course the women sit an exam. Those who pass are awarded a certificate and given a sewing machine.

“What is really exciting about this is that these women are empowered to then go back to their community and help their families by making products they can then sell,” said Ms Wolf.

“In the longer run we would like to make it more sustainable and perhaps develop a range of products like handbags and accessories that we can then sell and perhaps use that money to set up a school in the community.”

This year the voluntary group bought 75 sewing machines, two overlock stitching machines, a couple of industrial heavy sewing machines, 10 used embroidery machines, an industrial button-making machine and 60 pairs of scissors.

Amelia Johnson, a British photographer for Monyati Initiatives, said the group’s long-term aim was to develop sustainable projects.

“We are really determined to help and benefit these communities through tangible projects that eventually become self-sustaining,” she said.

The organisation runs about four initiatives worldwide each year.

In Madagascar it developed a project to rent rickshaws to drivers for US$2 (Dh7.35) a day. After 312 days the drivers are given ownership of the vehicle.

“This is the kind of project that can be self-sustainable because it pretty much pays for itself and in the long term that is the best way because this kind of thing does not rely on donations or sponsorship,” Ms Johnson said.

“Perhaps we can add an educational element to this scheme and with the rental money perhaps we can set up a school.

“We have also run house-building programmes in Brazil, where we brought in volunteers from the UAE and that proved to be a fantastic way of raising awareness of the benefits of volunteering.”

For more details about Monyati Initiatives, visit www.monyati.com.

nhanif@thenational.ae