“Start-ups” is currently a big buzz word all across the developed world – from San Francisco to Istanbul to Singapore, aspiring entrepreneurs are having a go at starting their next company hoping to make it big one day. Here in Tajikistan, there is also a wave of start-ups being created, driven by women who dream of creating a better life for their families.
In a small district outside the city of Khujand in Northern Tajikistan, I had the chance to meet with a very different kind of start-up business. The CEO/CTO/CFO of this one-man start-up is Mukaramjon, who is also a widowed mother of three boys. I meet her at her home – a modest abode with a small farming plot in the courtyard and two dairy cows in the cowshed.
Here in the poorest country in Central Asia, most men end up going to Russia as migrant workers, leaving the women behind to take care of the household. In the case of Mukaramjon, she lost her husband to a heart disease 5 years ago and is now the sole breadwinner for her family. Unlike most women who spend hours away from the house by toiling in the fields, Mukaramjon decided that she needed a source of income which she could derive at home so that she will be able to spend more time with her children.
With her Kiva loan, she was able to purchase material to start a domestic-business making traditional Tajik dolls and fabrics. She then sells her products to retail stalls at the local market. Margins are low at the equivalent of about $0.50-$0.80 per doll, but it provides her with a good income source to maintain the household. Mukaramjon’s mother-in-law also helps her in the business. “On a good week when I don’t get distracted by other chores, I can make about 20 little dolls,” she shared.
Besides credit support through Kiva's field parter IMON International, Mukaramjon also received special training from the National Association of Business Women of Tajikistan to develop her business plan. Currently, her weekly profits allow her to repay her loan and buy more material to increase production. While most other women involved in agriculture spend up to 10 hours in the field daily, Mukaramjon gets to spend most of her day at home with her three boys after they return from school. “They are now at an age where they need a lot of guidance. All I want to do is to spend more time with my children, and provide them with opportunities for a better life,” she says.
The kind-hearted woman also spends two days a week teaching other girls how to sew traditional Tajik fabrics and dolls. When asked if she charges her students a fee, Mukaramjon remarked “No, I just want to teach them this art, and keep our tradition alive.”
I have been extremely humbled by my encounter with Mukaramjon. Many Tajik women who choose to teach other girls how to sew charge up to $150 for a 6-month learning period. Despite her modest living conditions, Mukaramjon has chosen to educate the next generation in a traditional form of Tajik art for free.
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