â€œSharing my skills of dressmaking with women in South Sudan is a rare opportunity for me which will make me very happy for all of my life,â€� says Mohir Hossad a Bangladeshi UN peacekeeper proactively redefining gender roles in Wau, a town in northwestern South Sudan.
Teaching women tailoring is one of a multitude of civil-military community support activities identified by creatively charitable Bangladeshi men – because they are all men – in green in Wau.
For dressmaking, they reasoned, sewing machines would come in handy. With a minimum of time passing between thought and action, they acted nimbly and donated eight such tailoring-inducing pieces of apparatus to the Wau Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare. While they were at it, the Bangladeshi forces of good also renovated a room where the versatile devices can be used.
Private Mohir Hossad, a fine tailor, said he started acquiring his sewing skills at the tender age of 14, following in the by now rather deep footsteps not only of his elder brother but of thousands of other men and women in Bangladesh, a country renowned for its garment industry.
â€œThe skills I developed over the years helped me to join the military, and now we are six men in this Bangladeshi peacekeeping battalion in Wau who are in charge of sewing uniforms,â€� he says.
â€œOur trainees are very committed to learning and are able to use the sewing machines in less than a weekâ€�, he adds.
Jihan John, an 18-year-old woman, stays at the UN protection site for displaced civilians and is among those who got the opportunity to learn from the Bangladeshi tailors. She certainly grabbed it with both hands.
â€œHaving learned how to work on the sewing machine, I want to open my own small dressmaking business when I return to my home,â€� she says confidently, philosophically adding that her original plan was somewhat different:
â€œFrom my early days of school, I wanted to become an engineer, but who knows? Maybe dressmaking could also be my career.â€�
The Wau Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Christina Gabriel Ali, calls the potentially income-generating support to disadvantaged women offered by the Bangladeshi troops â€œexemplaryâ€�.
â€œWe at the ministry will make good use of the sewing machines because they are intended to benefit everyone in Wau. We accept contributions and support from other organizations, and this [donation of sewing machines] is a big exampleâ€�.
The Bangladeshi peacekeepers do so much more than tailor trainings, however. Last year, in support of the over 120 million-hoof-strong* South Sudanese population of cattle, sheep and goats, they conducted eight mobile veterinary camps, and also offered basic healthcare services to the owners of the prized animals.
Donating medicines and surgical equipment, as well as sport material (balls, nets, shoes etc.), has also been part of the Bangladeshi contribution to local communities, who have also benefitted from a reprint of 18,000 copies of text books used at primary schools.
*The National Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries estimates the number of cattle, sheep and goats to be in excess of 30 million. On average, each one of them has four hoofs.