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SICA Success Stories

USAID Empowers Rural Women in Turkmenistan to Gain Financial Independence

Kasym Jumayev grew up in a village near Dashoguz, a city in northern Turkmenistan located along the Shavat canal, an offshoot of the Amu Darya river. Since the diversion of Amu Darya for agricultural needs in the 1960s, the water level in Shavat has been gradually declining. For Kasym's family and fellow villagers engaged in agriculture, water loss posed a significant challenge. "Growing up, I assisted my family in cultivating a variety of crops. There were years when [Shavat] ran nearly dry, forcing us to painstakingly irrigate each field and bush by hand."

Kasym observed that women were the most affected, as they had to take on additional household and income-generating responsibilities. After designing a water-saving irrigator in university, Kasym sought to find sustainable solutions that enabled women to produce goods and support their families in the face of an escalating water crisis. This is how he came across Central Asia Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA), the USAID-funded Social Innovation in Central Asia's (SICA) program elevating forward-thinking youth across Central Asia through educational activities and grant opportunities.

"CAYLA has been more than just an educational program for me," he explains. "The tools and techniques I received from workshops, the mentorship program, and engaging with peers have all shaped my project vision.”

"Our region's resources shaped our focus on handicrafts and cultivation [as key topics for the workshops]," says Kasym. "Turkmenistan's rural areas are abound with raw materials and a rich crafting culture, presenting an opportunity to leverage these resources for regional development. For instance, [felt] slippers costing about 30 cents to make could be sold for a dollar."

The workshops covered the basics of business operations in felt work production, horticulture, and agricultural processing. Participants also attended marketing classes, helping them harness online and offline advertising approaches to sell their products. To further promote women's initiatives, Kasym and his team created a database of the artisans’ contact details. They also collaborated with an organization promoting Turkmen handicrafts to a larger audience.

For Svetlana Malenina, a talented craftsperson and program participant, the workshops proved to be immensely helpful. "I always liked crafting dolls, slippers, and felt jackets. [Thanks to the workshops,] I enhanced my felt-working skills, experimented with new materials and techniques, and grew professionally," she reflects. From the contact database, an internationally funded program focused on attracting investors to prospective entrepreneurs from Turkmenistan then learned of Svetlana and invited her to participate. Svetlana is now preparing to pitch her craft business project proposal.

Kasym's vision for the project is deeply rooted in community development: "When women thrive, so does the village." His ultimate long-term ambition is to equip women to lead trainings independently and create a self-sustaining and supportive community network. Kasym is also planning to expand the program to include partnerships with government bodies to enhance the market visibility of rural women artisans.

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