To celebrate International Women's Day 2018 IOM Tajikistan has collected three stories that well represent some of the strong, independent women the organisation is working with.
I was born and raised in Shaartuz. I did not finish school, only studied until 8th grade. After I dropped out of school, I helped my grandma with cooking and cleaning. When I was 16 years old, I was married off to a family acquaintance. My husband used to sell pirozhki in the market when we first got married. Within a year of our marriage, my husband went to Russia for the first time. In 2009 I went to Russia for the first time too. I worked for a year and returned back to Tajikistan. Next time I went to Russia was in 2011.
I lived and worked in Moscow near Leningradskiy vokzal. My husband was also in Moscow, working in the construction sector while I worked as a cleaner in a café. After the chef of the café left, I was promoted to chef. From that day on, I have only worked as a chef in Russia. My three kids were in Tajikistan, so all the money my husband and I earned went back to Tajikistan to feed my kids and pay the debts. We definitely struggled in life, there were times when I could no longer afford to pay rent so my grandma would send me money. There were also times when I hadn’t had warm food in weeks or when I hadn’t had meat in months. I used to work in the café 8.5 months pregnant just so I could earn money. I gave birth to my child after 3 days of landing in Tajikistan.
I returned to Tajikistan and lived in my mother’s home. After some time, I went back to Russia in 2011. My working hours were 5am to 9pm, I worked so much and earned more money that my husband. My husband keeps telling that I have achieved so much without an education, so he only can imagine what I could have achieved with an education. I was put on the re-entry ban list because of a change in policy of entering Russia. When I entered Russia in 2011, I used my internal Tajik passport. However, when I was exiting Russia in 2014, the law had changed and only biometric passports were recognized as a travel document. Because of this change, I was put on re-entry ban list with my husband. My ban is for 10 years.
I found out about the work the NGO ‘Chashma’ does through my mother. She had taken credit from the NGO and found out that they also help re-entry ban migrants. Initially, I thought that the NGO would help me go back to Russia but after speaking to them, I realized that they help re-entry ban migrants in Tajikistan with opening up a business. So, I filled out the application form and went home. When I told my husband about the project, he started laughing and said ‘it is okay to dream sometimes’. I guess none of really believed that it was a real possibility. My business idea was to open my own café here in Shaartuz. I have worked all my life in a café, and it was always a dream to have one for myself. My dream came true through this project. I received different equipment and kitchen supplies for the café, like the shaurma maker, an oven, an ice-cream maker and other things. I borrowed 4000 TJS from my parents to buy some ingredients and other things. Now, I have my own café, I sell delicious food to students and other customers. I make enough profit to support myself and my family. My aim now is to repay my bank debt and then I can relax.
For me, the most significant change story relates to my children. I remember working in Moscow and receiving phone calls from my kids. They were crying and calling me to say that they miss me. One day, I got a phone call informing me that my son had broken his arm and needs immediate surgery. That day, I rushed home to get my savings and then rushed to remittances office to send the money to Tajikistan. I remember this day so vividly because it really made me scared to think what could have happened to my son had I not had my savings. The second thing I want to mention about significance is the opening of my own café through this business grant. On the night before the opening day of the café, I stayed up all night cooking different pastries and preparing various fresh goods to sell. On the day of the opening I was waiting for customers and it was already 11am but nobody come in to the café. I wanted to cry because I spent all night preparing and it was all going to be for nothing. Then I called my grandma because I was so upset and she advised me to take all the bakery and food outside so people can see what delicious tasty things I am selling. Within 30 minutes, all products were sold out. I still remember this day clearly.
Life has become easier for me now, I think. My brother is in Russia right now and when he calls, he gives me updates on his life. He tells me it has gotten harder to find a job and to keep it too. So, I am thankful for having a stable business in my hometown next to family and kids. It was also very special for me to go to Kazakhstan with IOM on this project. I really enjoyed the company of fellow project beneficiaries who had such interesting and inspiring stories to share. So, I can now safely say that not only did this project help me open my own business, but it helped me see the world as part of IOM. There are no words to describe this feeling, one has to just feel it.