Tajikistan: “We will change our lives on our own.” Challenges taken on by women with disabilities.

In Tajikistan, the social welfare system has not been fully developed, and the pension provided by the government for persons with disabilities is only 80 somoni (roughly 1,600 yen) per month. Simply buying a slice of bread (their staple food) uses up all of their income. AAR Japan has been providing vocational training program to those with disabilities and their families in an effort to help them regain their independence and ability to support their families.

Below is a report from Yoshio NAKAGAWA, who has been engaged in operation in Tajikistan for three years.

Zarina (27, on the left) has difficulty walking. She took part in the cooking course through a vocational training program organized by AAR japan and worked hard to find employment at a high-class hotel as a cook. (at Dushanbe Serena Hotel on June 13th, 2013 with Yoshio NAKAGAWA (on the right))

How Difficult is it for Persons with Disabilities and Their Families to Get a Job?
Reportedly, Tajikistan is economically in the most critical condition among the countries of the former Soviet Union and the unemployment rate has been pretty high. Aside from the small number of boarding schools for children with special needs, we have found that the quality of education for children with disabilities leaves much to be desired. With poor access to education, it becomes difficult for those with disabilities to find a job regardless of the severity of their disability. Since there are not enough welfare facilities, women in the family with persons with disabilities have to be solely responsible for providing care to the family member with disability and housework at the same time. Furthermore, they have to pay more on medical expense and transportation fees to hospitals than other households in general. Mothers of children with disabilities are anxious to acquire skills with which they can do in-home work and earn income, and we, in an attempt to answer their request, launched a vocational training program for persons with disabilities and their families in 2011.

Sewing and Cooking Skills Enable Them to Earn a Living Immediately
In 2011, we provided sewing and cooking courses, and so far 81 persons with disabilities and their families have participated. It is customary for women in Tajikistan to have their day-to-day traditional garments made-to-order. If they have the skill of sewing and tailoring  dresses, they will get orders from their relatives and neighbors and will be able to earn a income. Also, in Tajikistan, people are allowed to sell their homemade dishes and sweets at supermarkets and coffee shops, which enables them to earn cash income by preparing a variety of dishes and sweets. In the cooking course, besides the regular classes, the participants were able to have on-site training at a hotel kitchen with the cooperation of a high-class hotel in Tajikistan. Consequently, a lot of participants have been getting orders for clothes, dishes and sweets individually, and have gained jobs at various restaurants and other establishments. Through these gains, they have been able to create a source of income, support their families, and improve their quality of life. We also have been providing a follow-up program for those who already finished the course but have not been able to earn their livings yet.

I Didn’t Want to End My Life Living the Way I was.

Zarina (on the right) cooks with her colleagues in the kitchen of Dushanbe Serena Hotel where she has been employed.
 Zarina (27, pictured on the right) studied in the cooking course as part of the vocational training program provided by AAR and got a job as a hotel cook. At the age of one and a half, she fell down and injured in her right leg. Not having been able to receive proper treatment, she still has a difficulty in walking. She used to work as a cleaner, but she wondered, “Why do I keep trudging along, living life like this? Why not give something else a try?” and took part in the cooking course. She said to us, “Thanks to the Japanese people, I was able to change my life. I am really happy now. I appreciate your having given me the opportunity to join the vocational training which triggered a change in my life.” “If we persevere in our efforts, we will be sure to realize our dreams. I would like to take another step forward to keep changing my life for the better.

To Support Oneself by Offering Beauty Treatment and Medical Massage
Since 2012, we have been providing beauty treatment and medical massage courses, too.
In the beauty treatment course, 25 participants are currently learning makeup, hairdo and manicure techniques. In Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, more women are able to enjoy dressing up through dyeing hair and having their nails manicured. Since the services of makeup and nail manicures can be provided while remaining seated and the kit of beauty tools are not too expensive, persons with disabilities on their legs are able to engage in that kind of job. In Tajikistan where public interest in beauty treatment has been just starting to rise, competitions among beauticians and nailists are not very intense. Therefore, when women have the basic knowledge and skills, they can enhance the possibility of starting a business at home or working at a beauty salon.

I Have Realized that There is Something that I Can Do, Even if I am Disabled
Dilorom was delighted that her husband admired her when she got home after having had an eyebrow treatment (with Yoshio NAKAGAWA, on the right.) 
Dilorom (37, pictured on the left), who has auditory difficulties by nature, has been enrolled in the beauty treatment course by observing the movements of instructors’ lips and imitating their practices. “I have long wanted to acquire skills to support myself instead of doing nothing but depending on my family. There was no program available for me, because it is hard for a person with auditory difficulties like me to study and communicate if instructors don’t use sign language. However, the beauty and makeup course works for me. I have been enjoying my daily study very much. In the future, I would like to pass the skills that I have been learning on to children with the same difficulties as mine. I want them to realize that there are a lot of things we can do and that we can have a job, even if we have difficulty in hearing and speaking.

Distributing CDs of Pre-recorded Lessons.
In the medical massage course, 12 participants with visual disabilties (ranging from weak eye sight to complete blindness) and their families learn basic human anatomy and practice medical massage techniques in an effort to become a masseuse. Since some participants have not learned Braille, we distributed CDs with pre-recorded lessons to make it easier for them to study.

I Would Like to Become a Medical Masseuse and Earn My Own Living As Soon As Possible
Mavzuna who aspires to become a medical masseuse(on the right). She has been a hardworking student in the practical sessions of medical massage.
Norboeva Mavzuna (23) was born with visual disability and took part in the medical massage course so that she could someday support herself by working on her own. At first the instructors worried that such a tiny woman might not have enough power to give a medical massage to patients. However, her sheer determination to become a medical masseuse moved them to accept her. “I never had proper school education so without any skills, I wouldn’t be able to work. So far I have been working as an assistant at a kindergarten where my mother works. But parents of kindergarten children have been harsh and prejudiced saying things like ‘Why do we have to let our children attend a preschool where a person with disability is working?’ The new director also didn’t like the fact that a person with visual disability was working in her preschool and consequently, I came to feel uncomfortable working there. Luckily, I happened to know about this massage course and really wanted to participate in it,” said Mavzuna. Now she has been diligently learning the skills in the course.

We have found persons with disabilities whom we met in Tajikistan making strenuous efforts so as to create a better life. In future, we would like to continue our assistance in an attempt to create a society in which every person can make a living by fulfilling his or her own potential no matter what disability stands in their way.

*In addition to your generous donations, we have been carrying out these activities with the aid of The Japan International Cooperation Foundation, Felissimo Fund and JTUC-RENGO.

Yoshio NAKAGAWA, AAR Japan Tajikistan Office
He has been working for Tajikistan Office since March 2011. After graduating university, he worked for a humanitarian aid organization in Japan for four years. He joined AAR Japan to further commit to aid activities abroad. He says, “the tight bonds and warmth of the families here in Tajikistan have really made this place home for me.” Nakagawa is from Kanagawa Prefecture.