Zahra's New Dress Shop
The clatter of a storefront gate rolling open cuts through the still morning. With a flurry of bright color and sparkle, a woman proudly hangs gold, magenta, and turquoise dresses out at the front of the store to display. Zahra’s new dress shop is finally open for business.
Zahra first met Samaira three years ago. Zahra’s family was barely getting by, and her children were showing signs of malnourishment. In the South Asian community where Zahra and Samaira live, that’s not uncommon. There, Servant Partners funds, trains, and coaches local leaders like Samaira and her husband Rohit as they transform urban poor communities by investing in the most available, responsible, and spiritually responsive group in their region: women. Samaira and Rohit’s diverse ministry has catalyzed over 100 community-based, self-help groups that incorporate microfinance business development, business skills training, literacy education, advocacy for families without access to food ration cards, and biblical storytelling to help women work together to transform their families and neighborhoods.
Samaira invited Zahra to join one of the newly-formed self-help groups, where Zahra learned the discipline of saving—if only a few pennies a week—from her family’s meager income. Recognizing Zahra’s potential, Samaira hired her to be one of the project’s literacy teachers, helping other women develop their reading, writing, and math skills.
Zahra had grown up in a Muslim family, at one point memorizing all 6,000 verses of the Koran. Through her long-standing friendship with Samaira, Zahra began learning about Jesus and joined a local house church. Today, Zahra is a mature follower of Christ and leads in one of the associated house churches. She also serves as an officer in the women’s self-help network that has continued to grow.
Zahra began dreaming of opening her own business. Despite a few less-than-successful business ventures, Zahra’s savings continued to grow. She eventually qualified for a modest microfinance loan to open a small dress shop and put her sewing skills to work. Soon she was able to hire additional employees. Zahra’s shop hums with the sound of sewing machines and jovial conversation. Zahra enjoys how her space brings women together: to work, to have garments made or mended, and to chat about all manner of things, including the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These networked women are transforming more than just their own lives and families; they are changing their whole community. The growing number of self-help groups from the few that Samaira and Rohit started have secured better drainage and clean water access, improved community health and hygiene, and advocated for women’s rights. They joyfully serve their neighbors while inviting them into the rich life they have found in community with Jesus and one another.