Women of Adilla, East Darfur at work in their own workshop and store in the town’s marketplace
Photo Credit: UMCOR/Sudan
By David Tereshchuk*
The newborn state of East Darfur (Sharq Darfur) in Sudan will soon complete its first full year of existence.
Along with its sister state, Central Darfur, East Darfur came into being in January 2012 as part of Sudan's ongoing peace efforts to solve the bloody Darfur conflict that had raged for almost a decade.
The new state's progress through 2012 has reaffirmed the old adage that while peace agreements are written in ink, peace itself is often built brick by brick. New and renovated buildings have become a clearly visible sign of post-war rehabilitation in the communities of Darfur, and so too have freshly invigorated businesses.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has helped rehabilitation by launching an economic recovery project in East Darfur with support from the United States' Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). UMCOR has set up Life Skills Centers offering vocational training for women and youth in two camps for displaced persons: El Neem IDP Camp and El Ferdous IDP Camp, as well as in El Daein Town and Adilla Town.
Youth and women participating in the Adilla project have all gained basic training in tailoring and sewing skills. The majority of them have gone on to receive additional advanced training. Most of the advanced trainees have since gained stations in tailoring businesses in the town's marketplace for a three-month apprenticeship.
Success for Women
There were cultural difficulties standing in their way, however. Initially the women trainees encountered opposition from some of their family members and from community representatives. In a recent note to UMCOR, the women reported: "Our families were at first afraid to let us work in the marketplace since we are the first women to be doing this kind of business outside of our homes. But now our families are happy for us. Some of our neighbors also tried to talk us out of this business, but now they see what we have accomplished."
The women's accomplishments were made possible by a detailed professional approach to running a business; they learned about assessing customer preferences and all the variables involved in product pricing, and they benefited greatly from on-the-job experience and real-world business practices.
Once their apprenticeships were completed, women received help from UMCOR in setting up their own business as a group. UMCOR was able to provide sewing machines and an initial supply of material for clothing. Using their own savings, the women rented workspace in two of the marketplace's buildings.
Once again their own report reflects the value they gained from the project. "The apprenticeship was very good. The traders in the market have really helped us. We have learned many new things such as good customer relations, the correct pricing of clothes, and how to design fast-moving items using designs preferred locally."
Potential for Growth
The women formally launched their business in August, just before the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Ramadan fast. It proved to be, as expected, a peak time for clothing sales, and substantial income was generated almost immediately. Traders from the commercial centers of Al Mazroub and Abu Jabra Station placed sizeable orders for jalabiyas (traditional Arab robes) and women's garments. Members of the group worked through the night to meet the demand.
Income from sales is handled simply. The women divide the proceeds equally and an agreed amount is spent on buying fresh fabric for turning into the next range of products. Already some surplus has been created, and the women can funnel money into improving their individual families' economic positions—buying household necessities that otherwise would have been lacking, for instance.
All in all, the women report on a heartening success so far—and also big plans being laid for the future:
"We have already made a good name for ourselves in the marketplace and our customers are waiting to see when we will expand our business. We plan to capture almost half of the Adilla market and take our clothes to El Daein to sell. We also plan to talk to the Ministry of Education and some schools to see if we can supply school uniforms for the children."
Your gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385 will help the process continue for economic improvement in Darfur and other parts of Sudan.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.