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(Pub date: 18/05/2011)

The Sidab Women's Sewing Group hopes to expand what it offers members, but funding concerns put a dampener in its plans

Most of us would like to learn a new skill whether it be cooking or accounting, but for many the time these type of courses demand combined with the inability to earn an income means it is not a viable option. Yet for a small group of women in the Sidab area they have found a way of getting the best of both worlds. Unfortunately this unique community project is struggling to support itself and expand due to funding problems.

The Sidab Women's Sewing Group is a non-profit community organisation that was started in 2004. The initial aim of the group was to teach and develop the sewing skills of local women allowing them to create items such as bags, purses and handicrafts that they can sell and earn an income from. At first the project started inside a school before moving to their current villa in Sidab where they now hope to start offering other classes aside from sewing to members.

Muna al Zadjali, a member who joined the group four years ago and has since become supervisor, is originally from Barka but came to Muscat for her studies. When she finished studies, Muna was still living in Muscat and couldn't find work. "I didn't know anyone and when I found out about the group, I thought it would be a nice idea to join so I could make friends and have things to do. I have learnt so much since joining here, such as English and computing and now do the accounting for the group."

Muna estimates that around 30 women come on a regular basis to the group and earn per piece that they sew. All the items made are for sale at the villa in a small but functional room that showcases some of the women's beautiful designs in the form of bags, tissue boxes and purses. When an item is sold, the woman who made it receives a percentage for workmanship, while the remainder is kept for rent, materials and expenses for the group.

Running something that is so integral to the community, who without it many of the women say they would spend their time at home, is not easy on such a tight budget especially when the income is 100 per cent dependent on sales. Muna said, "Sometimes we have problems paying the rent. Sometimes we

have a good month and sell lots, whereas in other months others we have little income."

Many of the volunteers currently helping the women with training are expatriates, according to Suaad al Balushi, who when she joined the group was already working as a tailor. When she visited the villa, Suaad would bring homemade food and snacks that people liked and would often ask for the recipe. "When I saw how popular the food was, I started to give cookery lessons," she said.

The women are hoping to build a kitchen in the villa that they can use for lessons, but while they continue looking for funds and sponsorship, lessons are taking place in Suaad's home. Many of the women asking for cookery lessons are foreigners who come in to train the women in other skills and pay around RO10 per session before the participants all sit down to eat the food together.

Suaad said, "It is nice that other women want to learn about Omani food and we can teach them. It is a nice cultural exchange as not only do they learn about my culture, but I also learn about theirs." When asked what is the most popular dish she makes, a blushing Suaad said that wasn't up to her to say, but one of the visiting women claimed her biryani recipe was one of the

best around.

Aside from cookery and sewing, the women are also hoping to venture into computing classes. Ruqaiya al Whibi is one of the members who is hoping to - along with a team of volunteers - teach computing. "I have three girls and they all know how to use computers and I wanted to know how they knew computers. That helped motivate me so I took some courses."

In the future, Ruqaiya plans to team up with a local school or college so the women who complete the course with the group receive certification. However, they first need to raise funds for the computers as similar

to the kitchen plans, there is a

room ready in the villa for the classroom, but vital computer equipment is missing.

Suaad thinks it would be good to have similar projects running in different areas of Oman, while Mona was happy to report that the group recently received some good news that not only were they getting orders from America and Australia, but the British Museum in London had ordered a number of items from them to sell.

The Sidab Women's Sewing Group is open to the public from 9am to midday, Saturday to Wednesday, and from 4pm to 6pm on Tuesdays. For details, visit

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Publication:The Week (Muscat, Oman)
Date:May 22, 2011
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