Kyrgyzstan, a land beyond

by David Schweidenback
Fall 2016 InStitch

In preparing for this newsletter I tried to reach out to a number of programs from a number of years ago trying to get some feedback as to the longevity of the sewing machines we ship. Programs are always excited when they receive a shipment but my goal was to ask how they would feel about it six or eight years later. Did it really help? The main problem in this attempt was finding some degree of connectivity. People change email addresses and in many of the places we work people are not looking at their email every day; in fact they might not even have email.

In 2008 with the aid of a Peace Corps volunteer named Roberto Hernandez, Pedals for Progress shipped 25 sewing machines to Cholopon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan. I know Roberto is back in the United States, and I’m pretty sure he’s in Los Angeles, but do you have any idea how many people named Roberto Hernandez there are in Los Angeles and the surrounding area? This type of research is fraught with dead ends.

Then one day not too long ago an email appeared from Nurila Choloponkulova from SOS Kinderhof, which ran the program in 2008. She certainly remembers the program. It was designed to bring in women who needed to learn a skill, teach them to sew and then return them to their villages to practice their new talents. Nurila understood what I was looking for but these ladies left to go home with their sewing machines eight years ago.

With a bit of searching and traveling around, Nurila was able to find eight women who still owned the sewing machine and had been using them every day to earn a living since 2008! I was astounded; at least a third of the sewing machines were still functioning after eight years! And quite possibly many more; she just hasn’t yet found them.

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And the final result of my searching is the incredible story of Jipargul.

Jipargul is a mother of six children. Her husband passed away, leaving her with the responsibility to care and provide for their children. Because of the time needed to care for six children, she had not been able to find steady employment, making it difficult for their basic needs to be met. She could not find any help in her small village in the mountains, so she came to the Family Strengthening Program (FSP) to receive training and support.

Through FSP, she enrolled in sewing classes where she learned how to professionally produce and alter clothing, traditional Kyrgyz mats/blankets and souvenirs. After completing her courses, she was one of the only villagers in her area to know how to perform this important work. So she went from being an unemployed struggling mother to a successful business owner providing for the needs of her community.

Without the donated sewing machines from Sewing Peace, none of this would have been possible. Not only did these machines allow for the Family Strengthening Project to offer courses, but extra machines were given to beneficiaries like Jipargul so that they could work at home while raising their children.

With the success of her business, Jipargul was able to move out of her two-room apartment to a larger house. The generous donations from Sewing Peace have changed the lives of Jipargul and her family, and ultimately the community that she is serving stitch by stitch.

Postscript: with connection to SOS Kinderhof reestablished, and the continuing generous support of our donors, it was just a natural instinct to make another shipment of sewing machines. On July 18, 2016, an additional 30 sewing machines arrived in Cholopon-Ata to further promote the Family Strengthening Program of SOS Children Village Cholpon-Ata. This is an expensive program, as everything going to Kyrgyzstan must be sent airfreight, but with such a record of success, how can we not continue the program. This second shipment will be distributed in the Issyk-Kul region.

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