Stitches of Tibet women tailoring

Observational Report on Stitches of Tibet

Economic Empowerment of Tibetan Women

Observational Report on STITCHES OF TIBET

October 2011 to January 2012

Since October 2011, with major funding support from Horizon Foundation, Stitches of Tibet (SOT) has been running successfully with a new separate class room for English, Math, Tibetan language & Computing classes. English classes are held three times and computing classes are held twice every week. Tibetan and Math are taught respectively on 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month.

Most of the trainees except for one or two, do not have any prior experience of tailoring or  of attending any school.

After a written and oral test in English, the women are divided into two levels. Level One- comprises those who do not have any knowledge of English. At SOT, they began their English classes with the alphabet, sentence formation and greetings. They have been great learners and they are all very enthusiastic to learn new things.

Level Two comprises trainees who have attended Basic English classes at an NGOs undertaking or they have some knowledge in basic English. At SOT, they are taught English lessons based on the Beginner Student’s Book (Oxford).

Stitches of Tibet women in the classroom“ I used to feel shy speaking in English before but now I feel more confident. Sometimes, I speak in English with foreigners and with my fellow friends at SOT which helps me improve my conversational skill and also helps me build my confidence.” — Rinzin (28 years old)

“I am thankful to TWA for providing us with such a huge platform where we can learn stitching, English etc.. When I first joined SOT, I didn’t even know how to write my own name but after joining here I have learnt many new things from writing my own name, pronouncing the letters correctly and making traditional Tibetan dresses.” — Sonam Dolma (32 years old)

“ I have never been to a school before. Learning English has always been my interest since the time I came from Tibet. During the last 4-5 months that I’ve been in SOT, I learnt many new English words. I will work hard and I’m sure by the time I finish my 18 months training at SOT, I’ll be able to converse in English without any hesitation.” —Tashi Lhamo (26 years old)

Tailoring is the primary training given at SOT. The main objective of SOT is to make the trainees self reliant. Under the guidance of a tailoring teacher and an assistant teacher, the trainees are taught traditional Tibetan dresses (both men and women), western shirts etc. Once they finish their 18 months training at SOT, they will be well skilled to take orders from customers and earn their own living.

Stitches of Tibet women tailoringBy now, the trainees can perfectly make or stitch a Tibetan blouse without any help from the teacher. They take orders and each trainee can make at least two blouses in a day’s time. They still feel they have a lot to learn. Since many of them have not used a sewing machine before, they think they have to improve their speed and match up with time. They are all excited to move to the next level which is stitching chupa (Tibetan traditional dress for women).

“I have used sewing machine when I was in Tibet to sew my own clothes. I did not have a proper knowledge in tailoring until I joined SOT. Now, whenever there is an order for blouses, I’m the one amongst other trainees who gets to make the ordered blouse and hopefully within the next few months, I’ll be perfect in chupa too.”— Khamo Kyi (35 years old)

“I’ve always been a very shy and reserved person. After joining SOT and meeting other trainees, I feel I’ve become more confident and friendly. I have also learnt many new things.”— Kunchok Tseten (31 years old)

Beginning February, the SOT students will begin their computer lessons and four state-of-the-art computer sets have been installed in their classroom and in our tri-annual report, we will report on this new phase in the SOT academy.

Stitches of Tibet ceremony 2011

TWA holds opening ceremony for new 2011-12 Stitches of Tibet program

Stitches of Tibet ceremony 2011Dharamsala, October 6: Yesterday morning Tibetan Women’s Association held the opening ceremony for the new Stitches of Tibet (SOT) classroom and beginning of the 2011-12 program. The guests of honor at the ceremony were Khenpo Lopon Sonam Tenphel, the deputy speaker of Tibetan Parliament -in- Exile and Louise Garrett from Horizon Foundation. The program was attended by TWA executives and staff members, the trainees at SOT and media persons.

The program started at 11am with a brief introduction of SOT and a welcome speech by TWA President Dolkar Lhamo Kirti, which was then followed by a speech by trustee of Horizon Foundation Louise Garrett. Louise said “Stitching has always been my passion since when I was a kid. I used to carry a small sewing machine wherever I travelled.” She hopes that all the trainees at SOT will be able to converse and write in English next time she comes to Dharamsala.

Khenpo Lopon Sonam Tenphel mentioned that he is happy with the work TWA is doing and wished all the best for the project and the trainees at SOT. Butter tea and sweet rice were served during the ceremony. At the end, the ceremony was concluded with a thank you note from Tsering Wangmo (Manager of SOT).

This year the Stitches of Tibet program will be extending thanks to support from the Horizon Foundation. Students will now take English, Math and Computing lessons, alongside tailoring and Tibetan. In addition the women’s monthly stipend has been doubled to 2400 Indian rupees, proving much-needed support which enables them to fully partake in the scheme. The new initiative will be spearheaded by new staff member Tsering Wangmo who will also look for further marketing initiatives, with the eventual aim of making the project fully self-sufficient by creating an online shop to sell the products the women learn to make.

Find out more about Stitches of Tibet here; if you would like to support a student please see the sponsorship section of our Support us page.

About 2011’s SOT trainees

The majority of the 10 SOT trainees are naturally very private and prefer not to be photographed, many fearing that sharing information online will create trouble for their families in Tibet. The four students below have kindly agreed to share some information with our readers to give you a greater idea of who your support can help.

Rinzin Lhamo came to Dharamsala in 2006 and India in 1998 at just 11 years old after a one month walk across the mountains. Since then, her father, mother and one brother have passed away, and remaining relatives are in Tibet. As a child she found study difficult as she was distracted by missing Tibet, but as an adult she is excited to begin the 2011 SOT program

Tankho is originally from Amdo and came to Dharamsala with her family in 2003. They cannot return home as her husband was a political prisoner in Tibet. She has three children aged 12, 13 and 5 who attend a Tibetan boarding school. She’s most excited to be studying computers.

Tashi Lhamo came from Tibet in 2005 and has two children aged 6 years and 19 months. Her husband works at the old age home in Dharamsala. Presently she has a very basic level of English, knowing the alphabet only.

Tsering Paldon only attended school until the age of eleven. Today she has two children, twins aged 4 years old. She is continuing at Stitches of Tibet after training for 1 and a half years previously. She is focused on her work and believes that the skills she is gaining benefit her and other Tibetans.

See the opening ceremony photos below or on Flickr. Photography thanks to David Huang.

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011

SOT opening ceremony 2011


TWA looks back on 16 years of Stitches of Tibet and plans for the future

SOTStitches of Tibet (SOT) was created in 1995 and extended in 1998 to sell handicrafts produced by the trainees. Around 10 Tibetan women (with priority given to refugees and those from a low socio-economic background) spend 18 months learning handicrafts as well as studying Tibetan and English.

This year, 2011, we have put together a comprehensive report for our supporters and those interested to learn more about the backgrounds of the trainees and the benefits of the program. The report also provides a glimpse into the future direction of SOT, with plans to broaden the training given to more English study, computer study and also healthcare. There are also plans to employ a full-time manager of SOT, who will communicate with the Horizon Foundation (who are providing financial support for these further activites), teach and look for marketing opportunities.

Read the report for more information including some of the success stories from the past 16 years.

SOT is a non-profit vocational training program established with the funding of five donors, who laid the basic foundation for setting up SOT and supported its expenses for five years. But for the last 11 years, since 2000, TWA has been bearing all the expenses related to SOT. Our long-term goal is to make SOT totally self-sufficient by generating income through selling items produced by the trainees – with an online shop to be created this year. If you would like to support this project, please contact us.

Tibetan Women's Association

Stitches of Tibet: Stitching the Economic Gap of Tibetan Women in Exile

Dharamsala, 24 October 2006:  Initiated in 1995, it has been eleven years since Stitches of Tibet (SOT) has successfully functioned as a source of financial support for many of the destitute Tibetan women in exile, especially new arrivals from Tibet. The driving force behind Tibetan Women’s Association’s (TWA) establishment of the handicraft and tailoring project called SOT is to enable the “economically disadvantaged women, who lack employment and educational opportunities, to be self-reliant by teaching them tailoring skills”. Staying true to its mission, SOT has produced 75 Graduates so far under the dedicated guidance of Tashi Dolma la from 1995 to 2001, and Dhamchoe la after that.

The SOT tailoring course is 18 months long, during which the students are taught and perfected on many different handicraft and tailoring skills. It is an intensive vocational course that is focused on specializing each students’ tailoring skills of various Tibetan and western costumes, thereby facilitating the students’ entry to financial independence upon graduation. The first group of nine students graduated on 5th of October 1996. TWA celebrated the 8th graduation of SOT’s students on 24th October 2006.

During SOT’s formation and its baby stage more than decade ago, Tibetans in exile and western supporters bestowed immense support and appreciation for TWA. One of our main supporters has been Mrs. Phurbu Dolma la, former MP of Domey, and also serving on TWA’s executive member at the time, assisted TWA’s tailoring project by providing each graduate with a sewing machine upon graduating from SOT’s tailoring course. Dolma la and some of her friends raised funds to present a sewing machine for all the graduates of SOT from 1997 to 2005. TWA sponsored this year’s sewing machines for the 9 students who graduated on 24th October 2006. TWA was able to pay for all the sewing machines, as we were able to profit from sales of merchandise during the Indigenous Grandmother’s conference in Dharamsala. TWA is proud to announce that we will continue to provide the sewing machines to every graduate henceforth.

All of the SOT graduates are either self-employed or employed by other institutions and they are financially independent, all of which would have been very difficult to achieve without SOT’s training course. The current teacher of SOT, Dhamchoe la, expressed her grief on seeing her students leave after 18 long months of staying together, but she has no doubts over SOT’s positive impact on her students’ lives. “They came to me with no vocational skills and now they are leaving with a talent”, said Dhamchoe la on her students’ graduation. The new group of students has already started tailoring class on 25th October, and they are very optimistic about the new turn in their lives.