Zelfija* did not have an easy life. Married to a husband who constantly criticised her, she had two daughters. From a poor background, Zelfija had not completed elementary school as a child. Because she did not have a national ID, she could not access the public health system. Excruciating pain in her neck and hands finally brought her to Operation Mercy’s Hope and Health project. There, she had access to doctors on staff for consultation about her physical condition. Zelfija also encountered people who cared about her as a person.
Listening to her story, the staff recognised that her self-confidence was very low—a mental reality reflected in her outward appearance. Her clothes were outdated, and her lack of access to dental care had resulted in bad teeth. The Hope and Health staff gave Zelfija physiotherapy exercises to address her pain. They also encouraged her to make other changes in her life. Zelfija subsequently found a cleaning job. Beginning to improve her physical condition, Zelfija also started to attend the STEP programme, choosing sewing as her chosen vocational skill.
As a beginner in the field with no previous knowledge of sewing, she progressed quickly. Meanwhile, she also started to relate well with the other ladies in the STEP programme. Something was changing inside Zelfija – an awareness of her own dignity – and was beginning to push her forward with a desire for success in life.
The positive changes in Zelfija started trickling into her family, too, especially in the way they related to her. Her daughters treated her with more respect. Though her husband initially was against her participation in the project, Zelfija decided to press on. She got permission to take time off work so she could attend the training sessions. She regularly attended the classes and finished the course. She also fixed her teeth. Her outlook and outfits were different.
Zelfija graduated with a diploma for sewing. That certification proved that she was capable of improving her life. Now Zelfija is continuing in the practice, or incubator, phase of the programme with other ladies, which is especially important for her as she doesn’t have a sewing machine of her own—yet.
Zelfija has a vision and plans for the future. She applied to the United Nations Development Programme´s self-employment scheme, with the dream of opening her own sewing business. With many new ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, Zelfija has now become a contributor to the community and an example for her children.