From Tajikistan with love: The “handywomen” diaries

Recently, I blogged about setting up solar water heaters as potential business opportunities for women in Tajikistan

Today, I’m happy to follow up the story on the ground with the resourceful women of Jilikul, a tiny village near the border of Afghanistan. 

Walking around Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, I was struck by the sight of a group of men sitting by the market equipped with saws and hammers. They are the local handymen who you can pay to do odd jobs around the house.

This was the image I carried with in Jilikul when I arrived to find a group of women waiting for me around the table – equipped with their own tools and excited to get to work. 

These women know how to do electrical work; they can handle the power outages and assorted breakdowns. With most of their husbands gone much of the year eking out a living in Russia, they know what to do because they have to. 

Fired up 

With firewood in the region scarce, our team reasoned that DIY solar heating systems workshops would be a great starting point for reducing environmental damage and igniting this country’s vast solar potential. 

We started the process in Dushanbe, where we trained twelve people on how make simple solar water heating systems.
A few days later, three of those same trainees joined me on the road to Jilikul, where they got to share their knowledge and skills. 

We conducted a three-day workshop, producing seven solar water-heating systems with fifteen women. It was awesome to see the women so eager to work. It was something as new for us as it was for them. 

As Jamshed Kodirkulov, project coordinator in UNDP in Tajikistan noted:

“Most of them head households while their husbands are in labor migration, some are unfortunately divorced, and the project has brought a new insight to what they can do to change their lives.”

Making it Last 

With each attempt, participants gathered enough experience to build their own systems. And with each attempt, our prototypes improved. The purchased materials were enough to produce sixteen DIY solar water heating systems, and the village is now equipped with the necessary tools to make them on their own. 

The systems we have built are already in use in the households of our participants. It’s exciting to know that the project will go on without our presence. 

And guess what? 

After a couple of rainy days, the week ended with a sunny day, when we finally managed to heat the water using the very system, which we’d built. It felt so rewarding to be able to wash our hands with it after all that work. 

The project is part of a bigger idea that we are developing with the Istanbul Regional Hub to ensure universal energy access using renewable energy, locally available resources and people. 

The response we received for the initiative has exceeded our greatest expectations; not only from women, but communities around Jilikul, and local schools where solar energy training could be a part of the curriculum. 

The seed is now planted and the doors for future green and sustainable projects in Tajikistan are now wide open. 

What do you think? Could an initiative like this be useful where you live?

*The pilot project is under the program on SE4ALL of the Istanbul Regional Hub and is implemented via cooperation between UNDP Tajikistan and UNDP Croatia – representing a pilot model for East2East exchange on Sustainable Energy Solutions between the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

This article was orginally posted on the blog Voices from Eurasia.

Gender equality Environment Europe & the CIS Croatia Tajikistan