To many in the Western world, Pakistan is infamous for religious extremism, oppression of women, poverty, and lower levels of education. However to those who know and love Pakistan, it is a land of contrasting beauty, warm hospitality, and diverse people.
For the past 15 years, one of Yobel Market’s favorite partners, Shining Light International, has consistently intersected with Pakistan's aforementioned struggles and assets in inspiring and effective ways.
They address education via operating the top performing school in the area, serving 600 students from pre-K through 10th grade. They diffuse religious tension by building relationships in remote villages and promoting opportunity for both boys and girls via mobile tent schools and localized schooling. They address poverty and oppression by equipping women with tailoring, literacy, and business skills in year-long vocational training centers, lending to their dignity and status and increasing earning potential.
It was an honor to be able to partner with Shining Light International over the past year to work on new product designs and help develop a business training program that can be offered hand in hand with their year-long vocational school for women. Currently, these schools bring ladies from every sect of Islam together with Punjabi Christians and seek to build comradery and understanding between the different religious factions. The goal of SLI’s votec center is three-fold:
The women graduating from the program are literate and fully equipped with the tailoring and (soon) business skills they need to produce high-end fashions for their homes, local clients, and international companies like Yobel Market.
After spending 10 months creating training materials in collaboration with Shining Light, our co-founder was very excited to conduct a pilot business development course and artisan visit this past November. The women from Shia, Ismaili, and Christian faiths loved taking personal inventory of their assets, then combining this with their individual talents, skills, and passions in order to discern a meaningful business idea. It was beautiful to watch these women from differing backgrounds and villages come together to help and encourage one another through the difficult concepts. At the end of the training one woman said:
“We are all created in the image of God. It is good to learn about one another and to fellowship. We see that we are similar to one another.”
Giving the women the opportunity to sit and learn together, to play games, share hopes, admit common struggles, and work toward solutions was a beautiful picture of what a unified community can accomplish. Upon her return, Sarah shared:
“Many times on this trip, I was aware that I was the only woman shopping openly in the bazaar; that I carried myself differently because of my understanding of dignity and personal worth. Several of the ladies in the villages commented that they wish they had “my freedom”. Others spoke about the necessity for women to be afforded the same education and work opportunities as their brothers, fathers, and husbands.”
Pakistan ranks as one of the lowest three nations in the world for educating women. In many places, mothers and daughters are not allowed to leave their homes without the presence of a man. It is hard to imagine being unable to run a business as a woman, let alone purchase food at the grocery store, drive a car, own land, or vote. When nations suppress the rights of women, we believe they harm themselves by omitting the contribution of half their population -- unfortunately the half that more consistently values social services, child welfare, elder care, art, and beauty.
We have seen that vocational training opportunities and literacy are altering the course for women internationally. After witnessing 2 graduation celebrations from SLI’s year-long program this past November, our co-founder was more impressed than ever of the need to continue supporting the expansion of vo-tec centers throughout the far flung regions of Central Asia.
The women who attended the first ever mobile tailoring clinic in a village high in the Karakorum mountains were from more traditional families - many kept at home and excluded from school, then married at a young age. As a result of the mobile training, they became literate, gained confidence and practical skills. They now sew their own (beautiful) shalwar kameez and housewares for their families in addition to supplying handbags and shawls for Yobel Market.
Looking back on the momentous day of the graduation ceremony, Sarah recalled:
"Perhaps most impactful was seeing the look of pride on the students’ faces as they graduated and received a sewing machine (provided by a generous donor and SLI partner). Light literally shown from their eyes as they held their heads high, aware of their accomplishment. These women now have something of value to pass down to their sons and daughters. They can read. Write. Earn money to help their families. These are things that the women of their villages never before imagined possible for themselves."
A grandmother from a remote village who attended her grandaughter’s graduation shared her gratitude, saying:
"In the name of Allah, thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity to educate our children. Our whole village is so thankful, we are going to generate some revenue in our community! We are here to celebrate this big joy. The women were just sitting at home doing nothing and we could not support our families. Because of you, blessings are coming to our part of the world."
In sum, Yobel Market is truly delighted to support the change that is coming to the nation of Pakistan through the unique, locally developed solutions offered by our friends, Shining Light International. We believe that the combination of training and earning potential will continue to encourage men and women from marginalized communities to believe in their capacity to achieve their dreams of more sustainable futures.
Thank you, our customers, for supporting the dreams of these women each time you purchase a vegan leather tote, wash bag or wool kimono!
Photo Credits: Shining Light International