UNHCR and Sheraton Hotel in Tajikistan offer Afghan refugees chance to shine
A pioneering partnership between UNHCR and the Sheraton Hotel is helping refugees to learn job skills.
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – Young refugees pass through the plush lobby and gleaming kitchens of the Sheraton Hotel in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, where they are learning the essentials of the hospitality industry at a renowned five-star hotel.
Nargis Alinazar Timuri, a determined 27-year-old Afghan refugee, has been assigned to the housekeeping department.
“I couldn’t sleep after the first day, I was really excited,” she said. “I’ve tried to memorize every passing day so I wouldn’t forget all the instructions and important points of housekeeping. Did you know that there is special technique to making beds? A beautifully made bed is something hotel guests appreciate.”
Nargis spent her childhood in exile in Pakistan, where she thrived academically, completing secondary school. In 2005, her family joined the wave of returnees to Afghanistan and, there, she pursued a degree in business administration. However, in 2014, she was forced to abandon her studies when the security situation deteriorated, fleeing with her family to neighbouring Tajikistan.
“I couldn’t sleep after the first day, I was really excited."
Tajikistan hosts the largest number of refugees in Central Asian region, some 3,000 people primarily from neighbouring Afghanistan. Here, Afghan refugees share a common language, religion and culture with host communities, facilitating social cohesion and further local integration. However, refugees are faced with a fragile economic situation and competition for an already limited number of jobs.
Livelihoods opportunities targeting both Afghan refugees and local communities can boost local economy while promoting peaceful co-existence.
UNHCR's partner Children and Vulnerable Citizens (RCVC) eventually found Nargis a job as an instructor at the Adult Education Centre with the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment of Population. She also taught at a community center in Vahdat, a town 20 kilometres from Dushanbe where the majority of refugees reside. When the Sheraton Hotel apprenticeship programme opened up, Nargis did not think twice.
The innovative programme launched by UNHCR and Sheraton Hotel offers experience in the hospitality and tourism sectors, helping both refugees and the local population to compete in the labour market. The programme runs twice yearly, for four months at a time. Upon completion, apprentices are issued with accredited certificates.
Nargis is one of five refugees selected for this pilot apprenticeship programme, along with five Tajik youngsters. The group will learn the secrets of high-end hospitality – from immaculate housekeeping and fine dining to basic management.
“I thought this is my chance to apprentice at an international hotel,” said Nargis. “This could open doors for me in the future, maybe even a job in a hotel anywhere in the world.”
Tajikistan’s tourism industry grows each year and this partnership taps into an emerging market, grooming future professionals in the industry.
“This important initiative denotes not only an innovative and strategic partnership, but paves the way for future enhanced cooperation between the two parties,” said Vito Trani, the representative of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Tajikistan. “In this specific moment when donors are reducing their contributions to humanitarian agencies, it is essential to explore new partnerships with the private sector, and take all necessary measures to improve the impact of our field activities on the lives of beneficiaries that ultimately will be further enhancing their livelihoods and self-reliance capacity.’’
“This could open doors for me in the future."
The apprentices rotate between different departments to experience all core aspects of the hotel. With almost two months under her wing, Nargis is making good progress. She has gone from cleaning, making bedrooms and preparing food to confidently receiving guests at the front desk.
“This partnership between Sheraton Hotel in Dushanbe and UNHCR in Tajikistan represents the first step of a pilot project that we believe will benefit local Tajik and refugee youths who are passionate about the tourism sector,” said Toni Toshev, General Manager of Dushanbe’s Sheraton Hotel. “It will surely contribute to open doors to the growing tourism industry.”
Despite being displaced twice, Nargis has never given up. Like the other apprentices, she is doing all she can to become successful and independent.
“Perhaps, someday I can help girls like me to get ahead, especially in education,” she smiled. “Being able to learn new skills is so important, especially for refugee girls and women.”