Author Archives: admin

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Najma takes her little beauty shop to the big city

Najma, a young and enterprising beautician from Yulmarab village, had started a small beauty shop based out of her house. She catered to her small, but dedicated clientele from around her neighbourhood and made enough to help support her family.

But Najma aspired for much more; she had bigger dreams for her beauty business. In 2015, she approached Zardozi to help her improve her skills. She attended Zardozi’s advance beauty training and not only learned new beauty arts, but also gained a better understanding of how to manage a business.

Armed with better knowledge, expertise and her dream, Najma took a risk and moved her shop into the big city. She partnered with another beautician, and together they opened their urban outlet on February 20, 2016 and named it ‘Chehra Ara’.

Najma worked really hard on marketing for her new shop. She printed promotion flyers and distributed them across the city, finding the right kind of target consumers. All of her efforts paid off; within a few weeks, Najma and her business partner already have a steady stream of new and happy clients.

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Undeterred, Alema builds a future full of possibilities

As a young girl, Alema’s future was full of possibilities. She had a wonderful family and was soon to be married to her fiancé. But as conflict in Afghanistan escalated, things took a turn for the worse. Her fiancé was killed, caught in one of the many battles of that period, and her father died shortly after. Heartbroken, Alema never again thought of marriage.

Today, at the age of 30, she lives with her brother. But being single, never deterred her resolve to be independent. For years, she worked as a clothes cutter with tailors, sometimes even working for free, just to be able to develop expertise in dressmaking.

She had dreamed of setting up her own dress shop. That dream was brought to reality after she joined Zardozi. Already a master tailor, Zardozi helped Alema improve her skills, as well as, supporting her to gain skills in business management.

In February, 2016, a proud Alema inaugurated her own shop with four simple sewing machines and one advanced overlock machine. Her friends at Zardozi were by her side that day to support this new venture in her life. Her little shop already has a number of clients from the markets nearby.

Once again, Alema’s future is full of possibilities.

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With a little inspiration and training, Sidiqa turned her and family’s life around

Sidiqa and her family live in the same house as her brother-in-law and his family. But that is all they shared in common; the rest is starkly different.

While the family of Sidiqa’s brother-in-law was well off, her own family could barely make ends meet. Her brother-in-law made a decent living weaving carpets and could afford to send his children to a good school, unlike Sidiqa and her husband.

Sidiqa was married at an early age. She and her husband have six children—two sons and four daughters. Her husband is often sick and unable to hold down a job. For a long time, Sadiqa had been struggling to provide for her family. Her oldest son, now 25 years, migrated to Iran. But because he was never educated, he works as a labourer and can’t send much money home. Although her younger children go to school, she struggles to provide their basic needs. She wanted to enrol them into English language courses as well, but couldn’t afford to. It saddened Sadiqa, that because her children also helped out with their carpet weaving business, they were unable to focus on their studies.

A relative introduced Sidiqa to Zardozi and she saw a hope for herself and her family. “At Zardozi, I met other women like myself; everyone had different struggles, but they’re all there to gain new skills and improve their lives,” Sadiqa narrated.

Encouraged by similar stories of struggle and success, Sadiqa started training at Zardozi. “It was like opening my eyes and my mind to new possibilities. I realised what I was missing from life,” she described.

The trainings did more than just equip her with new skills; it empowered her with a confidence she never knew she had. She worked harder and reaped more profits. “I feel stronger and independent. I am happy that I can earn enough to provide a good life for my family,” she shared with pride.

The state of her family dramatically improved. “I have registered my children for an English language course, and my daughter has started another course along with her cousin,” she added. Her husband, too, inspired by her success, is making efforts to find a more stable job. “I understand that it isn’t my husband’s fault and that every family has its problems; but we are working together to solve ours,” she added.

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Shafiqa wants her business to be an inspiration and create jobs

There was little that Shafiqa could do to help her husband support their family of six children.

Her husband was a daily wage labourer and barely made enough to make ends meet. Shafiqa knew some tailoring, but not enough to earn good money. She made a paltry sum of 500 Afs monthly by sewing clothes for her neighbours.

Things changed when she joined Zardozi in 2014. She learned new skills and designs in tailoring. But most of all, she learned how to market her products and business communication. In a matter of months, her average monthly income began to rise. Today, she earns about 7,000 Afs a month and is able to give her children a better life.

“I have more customer’s today because I’ve earned their trust by creating quality products,” she shares. “I can run my business without relying on anyone else’s support,” she adds with pride.

She wants her children to get educated and pushes them to do better, by setting an example for them. She is working hard to grow her business and aims to someday be a job provider for other’s like her.

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Friends of Zardozi: Indonesian women’s organisation, PEKKA, comes to Kabul for knowledge exchange

As part of a cultural exchange and collaboration initiative, Zardozi invited representatives of the Indonesia-based household empowerment programme called PEKKA—an initiative similar to Zardozi in many ways.

This trip was a follow up to Zardozi’s visit to Indonesia in May, 2015, and an opportunity for both organizations to learn from one another. Having been around much longer, PEKKA had a lot of experiences to share with Zardozi during the visit last year.

Much like Zardozi in Afghanistan, PEKKA supports female heads of households to contribute towards a gender-equal society. There are 750 PEKKA groups in 475 villages of 19 provinces across Indonesia, working with widows, women abandoned by their husbands, and unmarried women who have dependants.

PEKKA received various accolades and has been named as the best project funded by the Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF) and the World Bank.

Last month, Zardozi hosted Nani Zulminarni, director at PEKKA, along with their manager of institutional development Kodar Tri Wusananingsih in Kabul from February 20 to 25. While here, they visited several manbehs (community business centres), an event celebrating successful Zardozi women, as well as an exhibition conducted by the Kabul regional office. They also met with Zardozi clients and Kadar (volunteers) getting a firsthand account of Zardozi’s work in Afghanistan.

“We were very impressed with the way Zardozi responds to the situation of women, especially towards women at the grass root level, in an urban setting of Kabul,” said Zulminarni, who is also a well known women’s activist in south Asia. Her work in gender equality and development, was sharpened by her personal experiences of being a divorcee in a discriminatory society.

Since then, however, Nani has managed to mobilise hundreds of underprivileged women under the PEKKA umbrella.

And so, her visit to Kabul was a mutually enriching experience for her and Zardozi.

Talking about lessons learned, Zulminarni shared, “We learned so much from the approach that Zardozi uses, to respond to the difficult situation of women living in an insecure environment and dealing strong traditions in these spaces.”

“Nisfe Jahan is a good initiative that allows women to work together and build a strong community that shares experiences and learns from each other,” Wusananingsih shared. “It will help improve their conditions in society.”

Another take back for the PEKKA representatives was Zardozi’s initiatives to not just train women in business skills, but also to connect them to markets. “Zardozi uses different strategies to link these women with markets, for example, by conducting exhibitions and providing capital to start shops in their own homes,” she added. “These are things we need to learn from Zardozi since markets are very important in economic development.”

PEKKA representatives were also intrigued with Zardozi’s attempts to reach out and connect with family members of their clients, through events that celebrate successful women. “Not only are the women appreciated at such events, but also their family members—especially supportive husbands—this is very strategic smart approach in a context where women have lots of restrictions,” she said.

“It helps set a good example for families of other women,” added Wusananingsih.

The visit by PEKKA representatives concluded with a commitment for long term engagement between the the two organizations.

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Cab service for women, by women: Zardozi aspires to put women behind the wheels

Zahra takes a cab to work every day—a designated driver picks her up at star 7.40 am, and drops her at her office at 7.55 am, albeit Kabul traffic. He later picks her at the end of her work day at 4pm and drops her back home.

If Zahra needs to meet her friends over the weekend, or travel elsewhere, her brother is gracious enough to drive her around Kabul. It’s a comfortable arrangement, but Zahra has yearned for more—to be able to drive for herself.

She has, several times, watched her brother get behind the steering wheel, switch on the engine, and pull the mighty vehicle that is their white corolla out of its parking space, into the roads of Kabul. She has watched with much admiration as he commanded not just their car, but also the roads that otherwise seem so inaccessible to someone like Zahra. “I avoid travelling alone, and would never take a taxi on my own,” she shared. “Being able to drive will not only give me control over my own movements, but will also be a safer alternate to taking cabs,” she added, referring to the many incidence of theft, harassment and kidnappings by unsolicited cab drivers.
It also creates an opportunity for women to get into the taxi driving business—making a living ferrying other women—an opportunity the enterprising Zardozi women are eager to grab.

“How wonderful it would be if Afghan women had the services of a female taxi driver—someone they and their families could trust,” Zahra pointed out. “It will not just be useful to the women who take up driving, but also to other women who will have greater mobility with a female driver at hand,” she reasoned.

The idea, as Rahima Paiman, marketing development manager at Zardozi, explained was derived from the sole Afghan female taxi driver from Mazar-i-Shrarif. “Sahra Bahai has been driving for the last 11 years and has been a taxi driver for the last four,” Rahima narrated.

Challenges—first steps are never easy
In a highly conservative society like Afghanistan, where women are still grappling for basic rights, of course, it won’t be as easy to start a women-only taxi service. “We are still in the draft stages of the plan and are conducting risk assessment, and identifying challenges that will be posed,” explained Rahima.

For instance, the first batch of female drivers will only cater to female clientele—mostly students and young professionals.

The biggest challenge for these women, though, will be in getting societal acceptance. Bahai, 41, who is now a veteran of sorts in this field shared how strenuous it was for her to break into the industry. She often faced verbal and physical abuse, her taxi was vandalised on many occasions. “While talking to Sahra about her experiences, I found how difficult the process was for her, but she continued anyway, because support from the female community was equally overwhelming,” shared Rahima. “First steps are never easy,” Rahima explained. “The success of this project will require a lot of patience and hard work, but Zardozi women are, if anything, relentless in their pursuits,” she added, confident that Afghan women were harbinger of social change.

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#ZardoziWomen: Being a Zardozi Kadar empowers me, even as I empower others

I am Durdana from Ghazni and I’m among one of the first batch of Kadar (volunteers) nominated by Zardozi.

My journey with Zardozi began nearly a decade ago. Before I became a part of the organisation, I operated a small women’s bakery in my house in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi area. I also supplemented my income by spinning wool for three years.

All this, I did to support my family of nine that includes my grandchildren and my 110-year-old mother-in-law.

When Zardozi approached me in 2005, I did not need to think twice to participate. I have since gotten more involved in
Zardozi activities with each passing year. I was elected the chairperson of Nisfe Jahan and held that position for nearly four years, and had to give it up when I decided to go for hajj (pilgrimage).

Zardozi not only trained me in business skills, but also helped find a market for my handicrafts. My income and standard of living improved significantly and I further involved myself in Zardozi.

I have made some really close friends at Zardozi. We share so much in common—their lives, struggles, stories are to similar to mine. I met my best friend Kobra at Zardozi. Zardozi approached her around the same time as I joined the organisation—we’ve been fast friends since the first day that we met at the Dasht-e-Barchi Manbeh. And here we are today, both of us, veteran members of Zardozi, nominated as proud volunteers to overlook local operations.

We love our jobs, because we get to help the people, solve their problems. The newer members don’t always feel comfortable sharing their problems with their trainers, but we find that they are more open to talking to us. For instance, once at the Haji Nabi Manbeh there was a misunderstanding between one of our new clients who wanted to purchase a tailoring machine, and the Zardozi staff. The shopkeeper informed the staff member that the client purchased the machine at a much lower price, but wrongly informed the organisation that it cost much more. This client, however, strongly denied doing any such thing. There was a lot of bitterness and things had gotten very nasty when they brought the issue to us. We took all parties involved to market to meet with the shopkeeper, along with all the bills and documents we had. We matched them with the bills the shopkeeper had, and it turns out that there was no discrepancy at all!

The clients trust us so much that they not only discuss business issues with us, but also their family problems. We often consult with their family members to help solve their domestic issues. And we are glad to be able to be of help to these young women.

I’m grateful to Zardozi for this opportunity. It gives me a platform to inspire and encourage more women with my own story. I often tell the younger women at the Manbehs how I started with just 2000 Afs and then build my house, married off my sons, and went to pilgrimage—all by myself.

But, more importantly, the best part about being a Kadar is the responsibility of decision-making that Zardozi has given us. They don’t just consult us, but follow through on our decisions.

Our work at Zardozi has brought us respect in the community. There was a time when people would call me names because I worked outside of home, but now the very same people respect us. Within our families, too, we have a better position. My husband, for instance, helps around the house so that I have more time to give towards my job as a Kadar. My son does not make any major decision without my consult.

Our work at Zardozi has empowered us in so many ways!

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How Shafiqa’s little shop is bringing happiness to her community

Shafiqa was married at the age of 20. She lives near Jalalabad with her husband and six children. Shafiqa and her family have lived in poverty for years, barely making ends meet. Her husband was a daily wage worker, and his earning weren’t sufficient to support the family.

They tried to start a small business to help the family income, but due to lack of capital they were unsuccessful.

Then one day, a Zardozi team visited Shafiqa’s village. She heard about their programme and registered her name with the team in early 2011.

She attended the tailoring and business training with much dedication. She learned new designs as well as marketing strategies. She started her business small, stitching clothes for her neighbours and within the community. Eventually, she started to make a decent living out of the tailoring business.

This made Shafiqa more confident and allowed to dream big. “When I saw there was increasing competition in tailoring in her village, I asked myself what is it that this village needs that I can provide,” she said. “It was then I realised that there was no general store in the village and I could set one up,” she narrates with enthusiasm.

Zardozi loaned her 20000 Afs which she used as initial capital to open a small general store in her garden. She was an instant success. The villager and neighbours were happy to have convenient access to a store like that in their community. Women and children would purchase at Shafiqa’s store regularly. She stocked all the products that her neighbours would initially have to travel miles to get access to.

On personal front, Shafiqa and her family are doing financially better than they have in years, and are living a very comfortable life.

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From being a small-time tailor, Rizagul now employs 26 women

Rizagul has known how sew and stitch for as long as she can remember. During hard times, it was this talent that helped her survive and support her family. And yet there was only so much she could do, earning just about enough to feed her family.

That was until she walked into the Zardozi office in November 2012. “I never thought of marketing my skills,” she admits. “I never considered trying new designs, because I didn’t realise there was a market for new and innovative clothes,” she add.

However, the days she spent at Zardozi business centre in Herat taught her just that. She gained key business skill and got the support she needed to be an entrepreneur. “Zardozi not only helped me with purchasing raw material, new design, and marketing, but also developing a business sense I didn’t know I had,” she says.

With loans from Zardozi, Rizagul was eventually able to establish her own tailoring workshop, multiplying her family income as well as creating jobs for women in her community. “My tailoring workshop has been doing so well, that my husband has shut his own business to help me with this,” she says with pride.

Rizagul employs 26 women from her village. “Each woman produces about 80 to 100 pieces of of clothes every months and earns over 3000 Afs,” she informs. Rizagul’s own income often crosses 25,000 Afs every month.

She has now expanded her business and sells clothes for women and children to other shops in the market as well. “I plan to further expand this business, buy better equipments and set up a shop in the city as well,” she shares.

Her regular visits to the business centre empowered her with the basic knowledge of running a business, but it was her hard work, determination and willpower that brought her the success she enjoys today.

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From friends to business partner—Salima and Fawzia’s chicken shop supports their families

Salima and Fawzia met at Zardozi’s Sajadia Manbeh in Balkh province. They bonded with each other instantly and within no time they were best of friends.

Both are married happily and live financially relatively comfortable lives. Salima, 38, and her husband who recently graduated medical school, have four children. Her husband earns 20,000 Afs in a month. Fawzia,37, has five children. Her husband is in the police and earns 13,000 Afs. Salima and Fawzia both make a decent income as tailors to supplement the family income.

Salima started a poultry business about five years ago. After seeing her success, Fawzia too decided to set up a chicken business two years ago. She started with 50 chickens, but soon realised that she did not have enough space to raise chickens.

While discussing her chicken problems with her best friend, they both realised how it would be more profitable for them to merge their businesses. Salima had the space to expand the business, while Fawzia already had the 50 extra chickens.

The two friends didn’t need to think twice about going into business together. Soon, they purchased 600 more chicken at the rate of 25 Afs, and raised them for 45 days; selling them after at 100 Afs per kilo.

Currently, they have 45 chickens that produce eggs, and another 50 that they’re raising for meat. Their little chicken business has grown so much so that often their children and Fawzia’s mother-in-law have to help out. Their families are not only happy to support and contribute, but proud of their entrepreneurship.

Both friends share a dream of operating a large farm someday.