The ladies of Sarai can be seen in new outfits these days – a novelty for a village that’s never had its own tailor before.
But for the first time ever, the people of the Kashmiri village don’t have to travel to the nearest town to get their new clothes made because now they have Naseera.
Naseera Bano is 20 years old and she grew up in Sarai but just five years ago, she couldn’t have imagined the kind of financial security she now has with her tailoring monopoly.
In 2005, Naseera and her family lost their home in the great earthquake that destroyed dozens of villages in Kashmir. All of Sarai and 17 other villages in the district of Uri on the Indian side of Kashmir disappeared when the mountains literally collapsed on them, but the greatest casualties were suffered in Azad Kashmir on the Pakistani side of the border, with more than 80,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
After the earthquake, Naseera, her mother and four young siblings spent two years in a temporary camp living off uncertain charity. But their lives changed with a housing and micro credit scheme introduced by the Aga Khan Foundation.
Jalil Lone, on behalf of the AKDN, distributed funds to build 300 quake resistant houses in the area as well as three schools and a health centre. And once people were settled in their new solid homes, they were ready to think about the future.
“We gave them each a sewing machine, and provided them with needles, thread, scissors and cloth. They were given a basic tailoring course with the help of a local trainer in Uri.”
Naseera jumped at the chance to help out her mother who’d been the family’s sole bread earner for years. She was one of the first batch of 15 girls to be trained and is now perhaps the group’s greatest success story, according to Lone.
“There were many girls who trained along with her. Some of them got married and didn’t make use of the training they got. But Naseera held on. She didn’t have the money to start her own shop. So she runs her business from home. Initially she had very few customers but today she stitches clothes for all the 30 households in her village.”
And Naseera herself recognizes how far she’s come from the timid unschooled girl who started the course.
“It has helped me to know about my village, its problems and the challenges of life. I never used to speak in public, not even in school. Now I can speak in front of an audience”.
Photo by Jalil Lone