Hota Biclere expertly manoeuvres brightly coloured fabric under the whirring needle of her sewing machine. The fabric gradually takes the shape of a beautiful outfit.

She pauses sewing as Mary, a South Sudanese refugee and one of her best customers, walks into the shop. Mary removes a beautiful burgundy dress from the hanger and retreats to a back room where she tries it on.

“What I like about her is that she keeps her promise,” Mary says, beaming as she shows off the dress, which the expert tailor made in just two days. Hota has succeeded in satisfying yet another customer.

Uprooted by conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012, Hota fled to Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. She lives with a debilitating spinal condition that left her with a curved back and limited movement at a young age.

“When I was eight, I developed bone tuberculosis which affected my spinal cord,” the now 35-year-old mother of two explains.

At the time, Hota was in grade 3 at school and her education suffered greatly as a result of the condition.

“I used to miss school a lot,” she says. “Finally in grade six, I stopped going altogether.”

Hota looks at fabrics | Stitching a new life in Kenya

As a child, Hota missed years of school due to her spinal condition. © UNHCR/R. Ogola

In times of displacement, people with disabilities may be vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and violence, and face limited access to basic services such as education and healthcare.

World Day of Social Justice on 20 February recognises the need to remove barriers that people face because of disability, gender, age, race or religion. Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful coexistence and is at the core of UNHCR’s mission.

However, Hota’s great determination – and skill with a needle – has allowed her to prevail. Just months after her arrival in Kakuma, she found work as a dressmaker.

“I would only spend a little of what I earned and save the rest of the money,” she recalls.

After working long hours for seven months, Hota had saved enough money to buy her own sewing machine. She started her tailoring business and soon bought another machine. Three years later, Hota was able to access a loan of US$1,000 with the support of UNHCR.

Hota sews a dress | Stitching a new life in Kenya

Hota sews a dress in her shop in Kakuma refugee camp, where she employs seven other refugees. © UNHCR/R. Ogola

UNHCR works to ensure people living with disabilities have access to vital services and the opportunity to apply their skills to benefit themselves, their families and communities.

Today, Hota’s persistence and hard work has paid off. She has seven sewing machines and employs seven tailors, whom she trains herself. She pays them on commission, based on how many items of clothing each one sews.

While the business is thriving, her condition often makes it hard for her to sew. She concentrates mainly on cutting the fabric, leaving the tailors to do most of the stitching.

“Sometimes it is very difficult, but my children depend on me so I have to persevere for their sake,” she says.

Most of Hota’s clients are refugees but she also has Kenyan clients, including staff from the various humanitarian agencies working in Kakuma.

“Marketing is by word of mouth and almost all my clients are referred by happy customers,” she says.

Hota at her tailoring business | Stitching a new life in Kenya

Many of Hota's customers are fellow refugees. © UNHCR/R. Ogola

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