Rohina watched her family spiral into poverty over many years.
She was only 19 years old when she married a carpet weaver, a popular trade in rural Afghanistan. “It would take my husband six to eight months to finish a carpet. That hardly bought any income, and most of it would be spent on paying off debts,” she narrates.
Things got worse when Rohina and her husband had children. “As we welcomed five sons and a daughter into our family, our expenses piled up” she recalls the days when they’d go hungry because they barely had enough to feed the children.
Her husband was forced to leave carpet weaving and join the army, in order to send the children to school. “For a while, things got better. My husband earned a salary of 10,000 Afs as a driver in the army – it wasn’t enough to provide for the whole family, but we were no longer starving.”
But their situation deteriorated when Rohina’s husband lost his job in the army. Once again, life was a struggle and feeding the children two meals a day became a challenge.
Rohina decided that she could no longer watch her family suffer. She decided to take matters into her own hands, quite literally.
“I’ve loved tailoring every since I was a little girl,” she narrated. “My mother was not such a proficient tailor, but she taught me what she knew.”
As a child Rohina improvised on what her mother taught her, she stitched dolls clothes and would allow herself to get as creative as the resources at her disposal would let her. “I continued to sew” she said “I would make simple things for my children and relatives, never for money though.”
“Because I was not educated, I couldn’t think of anything else I could do to earn an income for my family. To be honest, I didn’t have confidence in myself either, to actually step out and look for work,” she shared.
“I never dreamed that I would one day be a successful tailor.”
Rohina decided to challenge herself, for the sake of her family. “When I heard about Zardozi from one of my relatives, I saw hope that perhaps I could after all improve the skills since I have to make money,” she said.
“I joined Zardozi, so I could be an earner for the family, rather than just be a spender—which my husband often nagged me about,” she added.
Since the trainings were in the same area as her home, her husband didn’t have any objections to her attending the programme. The sessions changed Rohina’s perspective of the world. “I met so many women just like me; others with different problems and needs. For the first time I realised, I was missing out on something in life.”
The trainings not only helped Rohina improve her skills, but also empowered her with a new-found confidence. “As I practiced, I did better. Before I knew it, I had my first income in hand. After that there was no looking back,” Rohina said with a proud smile.
Rohina made new customers but also lots of new friends at the Manbeh. “Even though my husband didn’t have a job for the longest time, I was still able to support the family comfortably,” she narrates. “I used to be afraid that my kids might be out working on the streets because of our poor conditions. But, by the grace of God, and the help of my trainers at Zardozi, I can send my kids to school instead.”
Rohina owes her confidence to her trainers. “They’ve always encouraged me. I’ve never thought about how a customer’s project could go wrong, instead I think about what I can learn from the trainer to make it better. If I have a problem with a fabric or design, I can bring it to the Manbeh and the trainers are always willing to help me sort it out.”
To Rohina, and many women like her, the Manbeh, is like a second home. “We can come and share our problems with each other,” she explains. “As Afghan women, we don’t have too many places we can go to socialise, but this is where we can sometimes come to forget our problems. Every visit fills me with hope and energy,” she adds.
Rohina has several customers—12 just last month. “Even though not many people get new clothes made in winter,” she adds. “A garment company just contracted her to produce undergarments. “My children are helping me finish that order—they cut, I stitch and they pack. I earn nearly 1200 Afs every week,” she says happily.
“I have everything a woman can wish for—even some achievements. I have savings and a Kesht. People know who I am and respect me for what I do,” she says with pride.