Zura Zaurbekova always dreamed of owning her clothing business. A skilled seamstress, the 48-year-old taught sewing to hopeful designers at a tailoring school in Chechnya. This was before the war broke out in 1994. The violent conflict would go on to result in two wars, at least 300,000 dead, and more than 700,000 displaced.
Zura's career was shattered, her dreams along with it, as she struggled to survive and provide for her three children.
"My husband worked as a part-time driver, making deliveries or driving passengers in a van borrowed from our relatives a couple times a week," says Zura. "He made $50 a month after paying for fuel and repairs for the old car, not enough even to pay for the utilities. Finding a real job, full-time, [that] used his skills was impossible. We had no food for the children before International Medical Corps found us."
With the support of the European Commission, International Medical Corps has supported income-generating activities in the Caucasus for four years. International Medical Corps Community Development specialists work with local administrators and community activists to identify vulnerable families who are ready to run small businesses.
The candidates are asked to put together a business plan for International Medical Corps review. If promising, the business plans are implemented with the help of International Medical Corps and funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). In the last four years, 370 small businesses got their start through the International Medical Corps and ECHO program, among them greenhouses, dairy farms, bakeries, and shops like Zura's.
"I told them about my business plans," says Zura. "I said [ I was sure I could lead this business and find people to work with. It's not difficult here. Many families always have financial problems and need jobs. Many women can sew - it's a tradition."
Several weeks after her plan was reviewed, Zura opened her shop, "Beloshveika," or "seamstress."
"I was so happy," she said.
Zura was just one of 195 entrepreneurs who got their start in 2009 because of International Medical Corps' income-generation program. And over 160 will get their chance in 2010; people like Zura, whose dreams were shattered, will finally see them come true.