Parvana Abdullayeva decided early on that education was key to attaining a better life for herself and her family.
“There aren’t many opportunities to make the most of yourself here, especially for girls and women,” she says, “So I worked out very young that learning was the best way to improve my chances.”
Born in the village of Kohne Khudat in the Qusar district of northern Azerbaijan, Parvana’s hard work as a student paid off when she not only became the first person in her family to gain a diploma but went on to work as a teacher at the village school.
Parvana is dedicated to her career but it has never been easy to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary. To earn some extra income, she has also been giving lessons in the Lezghian language prevalent in this part of Azerbaijan. The classes have helped her support her two children through primary school, but at the same time her family’s expenses have increased.
“We’ve always struggled to get by since my father died fourteen years ago,” she explains. “My brothers and my husband have had trouble finding steady jobs and just recently my mother has had to retire. I’m forty now and my eldest child is just about to start secondary school. What’s most important for me is to give my children a better start than I had and that means paying for quality higher education.”
Parvana has been putting a little money aside for years to help fund her two children’s education. But even with the recent increase in her teaching salary it has sometimes been hard for her to keep up her hopes.
The financial challenges Parvana endures are shared by many people in remote areas of Azerbaijan, especially by women, who typically face greater social obstacles to self-empowerment and fewer opportunities to improve their socio-economic position. Women and girls also typically bear the heaviest burden of care for the young and elderly, further reducing their chances of building careers and earning extra income.
In recent years, Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs and UNDP have developed a fresh approach to supporting women in overcoming these challenges by setting up Women’s Resource Centres in remote areas.
These centres provide a space for women to discuss common issues and share ideas for improving their livelihoods, providing opportunities for joint initiatives as well as offering training courses in useful skills – including basic business skills.
The Center in Parvana’s village in Qusar was funded with the generous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented in partnership with UN Women.
Parvana first heard about the Centre in Qusar from a teaching colleague and soon started attending events.
What especially interested her was the training course offered by the Centre in how to set up and run a business.
“I couldn’t see myself as an ‘entrepreneur’ at first, but seeing my friends and neighbours talking about ‘business plans’ as they were applying for the course I asked myself ‘Why not? I can do this!’”
Parvana discussed possible business opportunities with her family and with her peers and experts at the Centre, always mindful that her proposal should be feasible and sustainable. Eventually she decided to develop a plan for starting a beekeeping business, basing her decision in part on her family having some previous experience with making honey.
Parvana’s proposal was among the best business plans submitted and won the Business Development Competition, earning her a grant for the equipment she needed to get her business off the ground, including beehives, a bee-smoker, a queen-excluder and a beekeeping suit.
Since she launched the enterprise in summer 2019, Parvana has established ten colonies of bees and is already planning on expanding the business.
“This whole experience has been liberating,” she says. “It turns out to be true what they say about it never being too late to learn. I’m still committed to teaching, but the beekeeping business is my own and I’m free to make all the important decisions – how much to invest in terms of time and money, when to expand and when to save… I’m independent!”
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Story by Sandra Ismanovski, Arzu Jafarli, Dilara Umudova