"It started as a hobby. I was making dresses for my dolls at first.” This is how Intesar describes the origin of her success. She is now a professional tailor in the Sheikh Othman district of Aden, known for the beautiful dresses she makes. Her journey began, she says, when she was just seven years old. “Then my aunt gave me a sewing machine and I started making dresses for people and selling them."
While her husband was the main provider for the family, Intesar contributed to the household income through the sale of clothing at the small store she owned. When her husband passed away in 2014, however, Intesar became the sole provider. And then, in March 2015, conflict erupted and worsened her situation even more dramatically.
Many people lost their jobs or income-sources and, at the same time, prices of basic necessities soared. Average food prices are now nearly 150 per cent higher than before the conflict and more than 80 per cent of Yemenis now live below the poverty line. This has affected Intesar’s ability to sell clothes.
Wartime insecurity has numerous unanticipated consequences. For example, says Intesar, "I gave a woman, who worked as a vendor of my products, dresses worth US$333. However, the conflict forced the woman to flee her home which was looted and all the clothes were gone. I cannot ask her to compensate me because it was not her fault – She was escaping from death!"
At times, people would come to Intesar, having fled their homes without having packed any clothes. But they also came without money and would often have to pay in installments.
Ultimately, all the profit Intesar made from selling dresses went directly to food and education for her children. There was not enough remaining to reinvest in fabric and other tailoring supplies so she was unable to continue her work and was eventually forced to close her store. Considering the choice between sustaining her business over the long term and satisfying the immediate needs off her children, she says, "I had no choice.”
The Yemen Emergency Crisis Response project is designed to assist in exactly this type of situation, acknowledging that sometimes participants need relief from the debt that threatens to hold them back. In addition to equipping beneficiaries with business skills, the project supports micro-finance institutions and provides debt relief where it is necessary.
When peace returned to Aden in July 2015, Intesar received a loan through the project, enabling her to reopen her dress-making business. “I was able to buy fabric and decorations for dresses with the money I got. I can say that my income was saved and I was able to continue my business.”
In February 2018, Intesar paid the last installment of her loan. She then applied for a second loan, which she used to open another store.
"I am now happy that I have resumed the same work and am getting income – even better than before the conflict. I have bought a new sewing machine, fabric and decorations for ladies’ wear. My income has increased that I have been able to employ my niece.
“My next step,” she declares, “is to keep my business growing until I establish a small tailoring factory. I will hire professional tailors to make the most beautiful dresses in the market.”
To date, the project has funded 9 microfinance institutions to provide financial services to almost 84,000 clients; and provided almost 4,000 grants to owners of small- and micro-enterprises so that they can pay off their debts and continue their businesses. More than half of these business owners are women.
Funded by the World Bank, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP). The US$300 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of large cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labor-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.