Aja’s story: Sewing for life

Published: 12 January 2009 0:00 CET

Megan Rowling, British Red Cross in Indonesia This is the fifth in a series of nine profiles/case studies, looking at how Red Cross Red Crescent has helped people to rebuild their own lives after the tsunami in Indonesia.

Aja Muhibbah, chairwoman of the Pasi Janeng village women’s tailoring group, has a tough job coordinating the work of its ten members.

The women received a livelihood grant of Rp. 17 million (around 1,911 Swiss francs) from the British Red Cross, which they used to buy sewing machines and a generator.

In the later stage of its tsunami recovery programme, from late 2007 to mid-2008, the British Red Cross provided cash grants to 161 groups in Aceh to support livelihoods in four sectors - micro enterprise, agriculture, fisheries and livestock.


For the Pasi Janeng tailors, it has been a steep learning curve. “In terms of business knowledge, I am not a clever person,” says 36-year-old Aja. “Now we are getting orders, and we are trying to expand. It is difficult when there is competition.”

The women come together three times a week in their bright, spacious workshop in the local school. It was rebuilt after the tsunami destroyed many of the buildings in this picturesque coastal village on Pulo Nasi island, off the northern tip of Aceh province.

The group has seven sewing machines, both manual and automatic. Most of their work comes from other people in the village. The biggest order so far has been curtains for the village school, and they have also made clothes and pillow cases.


All their transactions are carefully recorded in a neat ledger, and they have their own bank account.

So far only half the group are skilled enough to do tailoring work, including 22-year-old Marwiyah who started learning before the tsunami. “It’s a bit hard to organize lots of people. There are no complaints, but some members are not as good as others,” says Aja.

Before receiving the group grant, some of the women earned money sewing individually. Now they can see the positive side of working together. “This way, we get the work done faster and it’s more efficient. Also we can learn from each other,” Aja explains.