GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency calls a new training project in Cox's Bazar a potential "game changer" for local Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugee women who are learning potentially money-making skills.
The UNHCR has teamed up for the project with a local nongovernmental organization, the Ayesha Abed Foundation.
The program, which began in February and is now being scaled up, aims to provide income opportunities to hundreds of impoverished women by teaching them skills in craft production.
The U.N. refugee agency says the goal is to train 500 women by the end of the year. Half that number will be Rohingya refugee women and the other half will be women chosen from among the Bangladesh communities hosting them.
The UNHCR reports the women will receive a small stipend during the training period. If the project is successful, it says, it hopes to expand it to include hundreds more women.
The camps in Cox's Bazar hold more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled to Bangladesh to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar in August 2017.
UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell agrees the number of women enrolled in the training project represents only a tiny fraction of the vast refugee population. But she told VOA the worth of the project should not be based on numbers alone.
"Small numbers? Yes. But you have to start somewhere," she said. "It is providing income sources to these women. It is providing training, and as we have underscored, we are hoping that this will be expanded. So, it is offering income sources both for the local community and for the refugees."
Throssell said the local and refugee women are being taught different skills. She said local Bangladeshi women are learning silk screening, block printing and tailoring techniques. The refugee women in the camps, she said, are being taught to produce a variety of hand-sewn embroidery pieces.
She noted that most of the Rohingya refugee women in the program are widows or single-mother households aged between 18 and 40. None, she said, have had any previous sewing experience.
The items produced by the women will be sold in one of Bangladesh's best known retail outlets.