From Darkness to Light

How an EU and UNICEF co-funded project for families affected by migration is helping to sustain livelihoods

Daler Sharbatov and Mehrubon Mahmadalieva
gulbargs story
UNICEF Tajikistan/2020
11 June 2020

Gulbarg Alieva is a 46 year old mother of three who hails from Nurobod, a village near Kulob in the south of Tajikistan. Her husband and eldest son, Zukhalshoh, who also has three children, used to make ends meat for the family by working as labour migrants in Russia. In 2016 however, both men were deported from Russia, leaving them unemployed at home in Tajikistan with few economic opportunities.

“Our income from the canteen was good and we had a lot of clients. But because of my health and the new rent, we had to close down. As a result of our economic situation, my daughter in law left her three children with us and went to live at her parent’s home. We were all unemployed and suffering – especially me, as I was ill. I spent all my time trying to figure out how to fix the situation, how to find a solution to our problem”

With their family’s financial prospects looking increasingly dire, Gulbarg and her daughter in law decided to start a small business together in September 2017. They rented a room in the center of their village for 750 somoni per month and converted it into a canteen. The business was successful, but tragedy struck when Gulbarg suddenly became ill nine months later and the rent for the shop was raised to 1,000 somoni a month. Not being able to afford the new rent, the pair were soon forced to close their canteen down.

While Gulbarg was receiving treatment she started cooking sambusas – the Tajik equivalent of meat pies – while her youngest son Panjsher sold them around town in the market and local shops.

“When I was young I wanted to hang out with friends and play football like other children, but I couldn’t as my mum was ill and I had to help feed my family. I felt a lot of responsibility. That is why I started selling sambusas. I always brought all the money straight back to my mum. I worked in the morning, so I had to run to school in order to not miss my classes once I was done. My parents always tell me that I have to be educated if I want to feed my family in the future and not suffer as we do now.”- shared Panjsher.

"I worked in the morning, so I had to run to school in order to not miss my classes once I was done."

When Gulbarg’s other son, Zukhalshoh, received news in 2018 that he was banned from returning to Russia, it was another blow. He says, “I began seriously worrying about the future. I didn’t know what I could do in Tajikistan to make enough money to feed my family.

While Gulbag was ill, her husband remained unemployed. He and Gulbarg often argued about his apparent lack of motivation. One day, after an argument, Gulbarg’s husband took out a loan from his friend, bought a car, and became a taxi driver. Around this time, her oldest son Zukhalshoh also found a job as a mechanic.

When the EU and UNICEF co-funded project "Protecting Children Affected by Migration in Southeast, South and Central Asia" started in Kulob, Gulbarg’s family was on the list of beneficiaries because they had two family members who had been migrants. Her son and husband were referred by project staff to an employment agency in Kulob to find suitable jobs. Later, both father and son found jobs and started earning money. With the money they earned, they repaid debts they had owed.

Gulbarg says: “The project staff became family members for us. We are so grateful to have this project in our town. Some service providers and project staff visited our house in August 2019 and gave us tips on positive parenting and on how to have a strong and healthy family. Bibinur Khushvakhtova, head of the Women’s Committee and Family Affairs, gave a talk that was very interesting to all of us. Later that same day our family got together and we decided to bring my daughter in law back home. This session helped even my son to realise just how important family and children are, and how a family must overcome obstacles as one. The project’s referral mechanism has helped to keep his family together. I will treasure the moments since this intervention forever and never forget the Project and people who helped us."

"The project’s referral mechanism has helped to keep his family together. I will treasure the moments since this intervention forever and never forget the Project and people who helped us."

Gulbargs story
UNICEF Tajikistan/2020
Gulbrag's grandchildren showcase their newly obtained birth certificates.

After the information session, Gulbarg’s son went to his parents in law’s house and invited his wife back home. Since then, with the help of TDH staff, the three grandchildren have acquired birth certificates.

Since being referred by Project staff to the Employment Agency, Zukhalshoh has a steady income working as a mechanic. He has also been buying and fixing cars to resell for extra money.


Gulbargs story
UNICEF Tajikistan/2020

"I always dreamed of having a small shop and helping people in the village. Another one of my dreams was to attend vocational training on accounting. Now, I have my certificate and I am the happiest person in the world.” 

Gulbarg Alieva from Nurobod

The agency also provided and paid for vocational training for Gulbarg. She has recently opened another shop with her newly acquired skills, this time in her home. She sells essentials such as oil, noodles, sugar, potato, onion, carrot, and cereal. This is to the delight of other community members – especially the elderly and those living with disabilities – as her shop provides a cheaper and more time efficient alternative to the 30-50 minute walk to the bazaar.