Diega and Emilia went from living on a dollar a day to having their own garment business

Diega and Emilia went from living on a dollar a day to having their own garment business

The General Seamstresses Union Vocational Training Institute

Through the Institute we implement a new way of breaking poverty paradigms in rural areas of El Salvador and improving the living conditions of many women, enhancing their technology and associations and fostering entrepreneurship.

Aracely Martínez, director of the General Seamstresses Union Vocational Training Institute


The General Seamstresses Union Vocational Training Institute was created in 2015 with funding from the European Union in partnership with the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador (GMIES) and the Italian organisation SOLETERRE. The Institute operates from its headquarters and works with a mobile modality in four municipalities in the country: Victoria (Cabañas), Concepción Quezaltepeque (Chalatenango), San Miguel (San Miguel) and Santa Rosa de Lima (La Unión).


  • The overall objective of the General Seamstresses Union Vocational Training Institute is to improve the living conditions of female factory workers and rural, Salvadoran and immigrant workers, enhancing their technical tools and associations in economic and productive initiatives.
  • Another objective is to train and educate women in labour rights to raise their awareness and consciousness as holders of rights and to defend and promote their rights as workers and as women.


  • 3 000 people trained in technical skills for implementing an economic activity.
  • 30 Productive Units (UPRO) created, in which at least two women are associated.
  • 3 000 people trained in labour rights, 95% fitting the profile of female migrants, rural, and working in factories and domestic work.
  • More than 3 000 women trained on their human rights.
  • Cooperation agreements established with other organisations, unions and companies to train women about their rights.


  • Beneficiary families lived on less than $1 a day, and with at least 3 children in the immediate family.
  • Additional income for these families has gone from $40 to $200/month, gradually improving their quality of life.


Diega and Emilia went from living on a dollar a day to having their own garment making business

Diega Membreño and Emilia Leiva grew up in the rural area of ​​one of the poorest departments struck by the Salvadoran civil war of the 80's: Cabañas.

Diega, 62, who lives in the municipality of Guacotecti, never learned to read or write. At only eight years of age she began to work for the owner of a hacienda. Emilia, 40, grew up in a humble family of peasants in the municipality of Victoria; with the outbreak of the armed conflict, she dropped out of school in sixth grade to fight with the guerrillas. Years later, forced by poverty and to help her five children, she earned her income from selling tamales and from collecting cans and bottles out of the rubbish to sell them to recycling companies.

They met two years ago as beneficiaries of the garment-making course from the Vocational Institute of the General Seamstresses Union. At first Diega was discouraged by the difficulty of not knowing how to read. However, the trainers encouraged her to continue and she was able to reach the same level as others. Emilia had to take care of her one-year-old daughter but she decided to attend classes and bring the little girl.

All project beneficiaries acquired knowledge on labour law, entrepreneurship, and women's rights. "It was very helpful to us to identify the forms of violence we are exposed to, in order to be able to help those who suffer from it," explains Diega.

After the training process, accompaniment and seed capital were provided, benefitting both of them through creating a Productive Unit, which is based in Diega's home.

With the machines and necessary material to begin producing, they began making dresses, blankets, bedspreads, pillows, tablecloths, men's underwear, aprons and skirts. They enjoy their activities in the six hours a day they work from Monday to Friday, and on weekends they leave their threads and needles to go to the Sensuntepeque market to sell their creations. "We are quite successful in sales and there are also people who place orders with us without even knowing us because they saw some garment that they liked from another buyer and ask for our contact information," says Emilia. A few days ago began to take orders from some companies.

After a long time of living off just $1 a day each, now the unit generates an income of about $200 a month between the two.