Ikhlas, 45, has used her new sewing skills to build a business and support her family | Photo Credits: UNDP Yemen

The humming machines sound like busy working bees. Ikhlas and her colleagues sit sewing studiously, producing the critical face masks their community requires.

In a large room in Tor Al-Baha District in Lahj Governorate, southern Yemen, 10 women work tirelessly – but it wasn’t always masks they were producing.

Ikhlas, 45, is a sewing pioneer in her neighborhood. Recently gaining new skills through a short training course, her ingenious fingertips have made her popular among neighbours and friends who visit to have their garments mended or adjusted.

Originally educated in chemistry, Ikhlas has been unable to find work in the sector since graduation. "I made several attempts to work in the private and public sectors in my area of ​​specialisation, but have been unsuccessful. Things have become even more complicated after the war. I wanted to help myself and my family, but to no avail," she explains.

A few years ago, Ikhlas and her family fled from their home in neighbouring Taiz Governorate to escape conflict. Feeling trapped and unhelpful – and amidst rising unemployment – Ikhlas was looking for a way to financially support her family when she was selected to join a UNDP training programme.

Now, she takes pride in her work. She sews brightly-coloured women’s and children’s clothes decorated with various motifs to create beautiful wearable paintings for her customers.

Reigniting community training programmes

As a result of protracted conflict and economic decline in Yemen, many private sector and governmental institutions have been forced to downsize or close. In Tor Al-Baha District, this included the government’s Center for Community Development and Productive Families that trained women in a variety of craft skills to fight against unemployment and poverty. The Center’s sewing machines were worn and outdated, and without funds for replacement, sewing courses were stopped.

Recognising the need for a reignition of community training programmes, UNDP – with generous funding from the Government of Japan – worked together with the Bassmat Amal Foundation for Social Development and Al-Atta Foundation for Relief and Development to purchase modern sewing machines and install a solar power system to provide affordable, reliable energy.

"The center has started to regain its training role in the community. At the beginning of April 2020, I joined nine other women in a one-month sewing course. I was then given funds to buy my own sewing machine, sewing tools and fabrics to start my own business,” explains Ikhlas. "Now I have an opportunity to help myself and my family financially."

Local women from Tor Al-Baha District come together to sew face masks that will help protect their community from the COVID-19 pandemic | Photo Credits: UNDP Yemen

Creating opportunity during crisis

The spread of COVID-19 and the community’s need for protective face masks – combined with their rocketing prices due to high demand and low supply – led authorities in Tor Al-Baha District to reach out to the Center. They urgently needed support to produce face masks and provide them to healthcare workers and public administration officials.

Ikhlas, with her mastery of sewing skills, and the nine other trained women were quickly hired to work at the Center to fill the critical need. Within a few days, production reached 5,000 masks a day – all ready for distribution to healthcare facilities and government institutions.

"The contracting of the Center for Community Development and Productive Families benefitted me financially. I was able to make additional income on top of the money I make from my micro-business sewing clothes,” says Ikhlas. She also highlights the growth potential she will now have, thanks to her work supporting the local mask production.

Ikhlas is planning to open a small factory to design and make dresses, and a store to sell her work to the community. Thanks to these new revenue streams, she can grow her business while still providing her family and husband living with a disability the necessities for a decent life.

"I thank UNDP and the Government of Japan for their support. I hope all organisations working in Yemen invest in young people and their training to improve individual and family income," says Ikhlas, expressing her gratitude.


These activities were made possible through the Yemen Livelihood and Human Security (YLHS) project. YLHS contributes to the overall stability of Yemeni governorates by empowering communities to recover from conflict through improved access to livelihoods, basic services, protection, and safety measures. YLHS works to engage Yemenis at the community-level to identify and manage sustained income generation opportunities and rehabilitate public services, help communities to improve social cohesion and prevent future conflict.  

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