Category Archives: Featured Stories

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Happy International Women’s Day!

In the midst of COVID 19 (Coronavirus) crisis when people are seeking isolation and distance from one another, Zardozi’s Kabul staff members came together for a tea-talk on International Women Day to share the joy of this special occasion.

Zardozi celebrated March 8 to remember the day of those who are despised and undermined every day and to acknowledge all the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters who are not recognized for working day and night in raising their children to become great men and women.

The male staff members in Zardozi appreciated each woman working in the organization as an employee and client. They spoke about the women’s bravery and the daily challenges they face to achieve their basic rights. They also made a cake, and gifted flowers and pens as sign of gratitude and respect.

This International Women’s Day, we share stories of the progress of the women in rural areas who started their businesses from nothing while some others who have gone out in secret to learn skills that would change their life for good.

 


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Successful Businesswomen of the Year

“I am very proud of my mother today. I want to thank her because she works very hard to feed me and my sisters,” said Nadira’s son when he saw his mother walk on the stage and receive applause and appreciation from the guests in the hall. (Nadira, 38, is a restaurant owner, successful businesswoman and the only breadwinner of her family in Shewaki village of Kabul)

On Thursday, 30th of January, Zardozi celebrated nine successful women from among hundreds of other clients in Kabul. These women were chosen from various districts on the outskirts of Kabul where men and women segregation is on a large scale. The successful women celebration is one of Zardozi’s significant tactics in bringing together both women and men in one room to acknowledge women’s accomplishments and raise support for the hard work they do outside and inside the house.

We believe that events like this positively change the mindset of men and family members. Family support is vital for the progress of women’s businesses since there is always a mother-in-law, a father, a husband and or a brother who will prevent their women from working, but there is no one to show them the bright side. That’s where Zardozi finds it necessary to attain that support for its clients by facilitating platforms such as the successful women celebration.

Among the celebrated women on this day was Fatima- a single mother who fulfills both a mother’s and a father’s role for her children. Fatima’s hard work had all of her kids enrolled in schools and universities. However, Fatima says that after the death of her husband, her mother-in-law was the only person that stood behind her and encouraged her to sustain herself. “I am grateful to my mother-in-law because without her I would have never been able to recover from the grief of losing my husband and taking care of my babies alone,” said Fatima.

The successful businesswomen celebrations have not only achieved men’s support but it has also altered women’s idea about pursuing their businesses. For the majority of the women, the establishment of successful businesses is not borne out of a dream, but it is based on a need.  However, today there are several examples of women who chase it as passion and life’s vision by looking up to the successful businesswomen receiving awards, appreciation, love, and respect from family members, friends, and other clients. To attain that position, they also now follow the same path – establishing mini businesses and asking Zardozi for support.


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Noor Jan Makes Organic Soap to Support her Family

Like many Afghans in Iran, Noor Jan from Herat came back to Afghanistan because the living conditions were bad for Afghans. Upon return, Noor Jan and her mother worked at people’s houses as servants for little money.

Due to financial problems, Noor Jan’s father gave her in marriage to her cousin for money. Although Noor Jan’s new family was relatively well-nurtured, she was beaten and cussed for coming from a poor family who didn’t give her gold and house as a wedding gift – a tradition that long lives in Afghanistan.

“My in-laws used me like a servant. They even didn’t allow me to meet my mother and sisters. I felt helpless and depressed,” Noor Jan expressed in her words.

Noor Jan says that one benefit she had was that she was educated enough to start teaching and keep her new family happy with the money she brought. For a while, this earned her a little respect and place in her family’s heart.

Unfortunately, Noor Jan could not stay longer in her position as well because the schools started hiring teachers with bachelor’s degrees which left her with no job and hope.

In 2014, when Zardozi registered her as a client and trained her in tailoring, Noor Jan found the confidence to do something that could earn her more money than she could make through teaching or sewing.

Zardozi trainers encouraged Noor Jan to learn about soap making since its health benefits had developed a good market.

Together with four more women, she participated in a program facilitated by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development for women. In there, she learned how to make soap and produce it on the market. After some years of success, she opened her private mini factory where she also produced natural almond oil for strong hair. “People are happy with my products. Many of my customers are youngsters who buy these organic soaps for clear skin,” Noor Jan said.

“At first my husband did not allow me to participate in any programs but when I told him that there are no men in my workplace, he not only gave me permission, but he also brought me natural almond oil which is filtered in my workshop and sold in shops and exhibitions,” appended Noor Jan.

She added that she feels very proud when her husband calls her an artist and involves her in making all kinds of decisions. Currently, Noor Jan is the leader of her home and is no longer vulnerable to violence by her in-laws.


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Women’s First Savings Groups in Mazar-e-Sharif

Afghan women in rural Afghanistan are gradually rising as the breadwinners of their families as they pay for their children’s education and facilitate modest living conditions.

Most of the women, who are clients of Zardozi, are currently having established small businesses through which they support their families and stand beside their husbands.

In many cases, Zardozi provides seed money or equipment from its loan budget for these businesses. The women pay back without giving interest which also preserves the Islamic values that forbid interest.

Recently, Zardozi learned about new ways of assisting women to set up small enterprises. With the support of Zardozi, Mazar-e-Sharif women started Savings Groups at the Community Business Centers/Manbehs where each woman saves a small amount of money every week.

The Saving Groups are founded to enhance self-reliability and a sense of responsibility among women. Zardozi was inspired by the Savings Groups’ idea when the team visited PEKKA’s (woman-headed households empowerment program) savings groups in Indonesia.

Therefore, several groups of women in 30 Manbehs followed this model and started Saving Groups in August 2019. With the help of Operation Mercy, each group that consists of 25 women was guided by trained Kadars and staff members.

In contrary to Zardozi’s loan budget that is arranged by the donor, women in saving groups save more than 10-50 AFS in a safe box in the Manbeh, every week. This money is thereafter collected and used as loans to maintain, establish, or expand small businesses by the women.

Ms. Nasreen Sahibzada, Zardozi’s regional manager in Mazar-e-sharif says that the savings do not only facilitate the establishment of businesses by women, but some women in the group have also used their savings for their personal needs such as paying their children’s tuition fees or facilitating a workshop for themselves in Manbeh.

“For the start of an initiative like this, we have made good progress. We plan to raise 100,000 AFS in the next year and slowly increase the amount based on the capability of women,” says Nasreen Sahibzada.

The Savings program has had many advantages for both women and Zardozi. For example, it has increased women’s attendance by 50% in the Manbeh since their money is invested here. Also, women are able to instantly and without going through long processes take loans from their savings.

Ms. Monira who is a client of Khorasn Manbeh and a member of the savings group says that she needed money urgently to start her business before winter. Monira took a loan within 2 days and bought a popcorn machine for her husband. “I didn’t expect that I will get the loan this quickly. Now my husband brings 400 AFS every day which enabled us to buy warm clothes and a heater for our home.”

Ms. Masooma from Zarat Manbeh says, “The savings program has helped me save the money which I would spend each day on buying unnecessary things. Now, all that money is saved in a better place and I can do something big with it in the future.”

Zardozi is planning to establish many of these groups in all of its regions so that if the international funding stops, women will have the motivation and self-sufficiency to continue and sustain their businesses.


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Providing Equal Opportunity for All

When it comes to transgender people, Afghanistan is a more difficult place to live in for Trans people than it is for women.  They either migrate to western countries or subdue their real identity at home country. The moment they come out to their families and society, they are locked at homes, abandoned or ridiculed by their families and society. The Afghan laws do not protect their right to education, work and especially marriage. Homosexuality is deemed a shame and crime in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Zardozi stands in full support of the diverse community it works with. It has given voice to the voiceless regardless of their gender differences.  In this story, Alla Gul who tells his real name as something else is a transgender.

Sixteen years old Alla Gul is from Nangarhar where he lives together with his six brothers and three sisters. He came out to his family three years ago which came as a shock to his parents. It took his family a long time to embrace and live with the fact.

Alla Gul is a smart and brave kid. Every little and big step has been a big fight for him. Although serving as a servant at one of the hospitals in Nangarhar, Alla Gul still does not have the courage to attend big gatherings such as wedding ceremonies, funerals, or even visiting relatives.

After becoming Zardozi’s client, he recognized that going to Manbeh was the only place where he felt safe because the women in Manbeh are very comfortable sitting in one room with him.

With a sad smile on his face, Alla Gul says,“People laugh at me and mock me. Therefore, I am staying at home all the time. Only attending the Manbeh cheers me up. This is the only place where I feel very happy and I can be who I am. I also like to play cricket with other kids, to go to the Mosque for prayer and to learn Quran-e-Sharif, but I cannot. Instead, I am now learning Quran from my trainers and other women in Manbeh.”

For Alla Gul, it is easy to be surrounded by women especially when he shares the same skills with them: Tailoring and Gul Dozi.

“Zardozi staff members are very kind to me. They invite me to their events and exhibitions which is something new for me, but it is also a place where I can express myself through my skills and products. Some people respect me for my work which is a big thing for a transgender in a country like Afghanistan.”

He adds that there are many NGOs who work for human rights, but they have ignored the transgender people. They are neglected in every walk of life. The possibility of death is higher for this particular group of people.

“But I am thankful to Zardozi colleagues because they accepted me for who I am and taught me important skills. You know, one of the best feelings for me has been that when a customer praises my work and tells me how my concept is wonderful, innovative and meets their needs perfectly,” he exclaimed!

Alla Gul is still very concerned about his future. He does not know what will life offer him but what he knows very well is that people will always say bad things, but he will not allow them to hold him back.


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Zardozi Opens Community Business Center for Disabled Women

While some people are born disabled, in Afghanistan, the unfortunate war has cursed many Afghan children and adults with a disability. Lack of adequate support centers and institutions is even more challenging. People hold different perceptions about their abilities, that’s why the disabled population goes through a lot of difficulties in moving around, finding good jobs and starting a family. Some of them become a burden and disappointment to their families.

To overcome this drastic increase in disability, in Herat, Abdul Ali Barakzai established a center for disabled men and women from small money. As he himself was suffering from spinal trauma because of which his body had lost sense below his neck, he started this sincere work to facilitate a platform for those who are differently-abled. His patience, wisdom, and ability to draw with teeth only made him a role-model that gave hope and courage to hundreds of other people with disabilities.

The center called Pir-e-Herat Charity Foundation equips different poor disabled people with artistic and employability skills such as painting, drawing, calligraphy, and playing different sports and musical instruments.

Entering the center, you will find people who thought they were no more capable of doing anything but today they write and draw incredible things with their feet, mouth, and arms cut in explosions.

Calling the kids in the center as his sons and daughters, Abdul Ali has capacitated many to show their talent in educational courses, exhibitions, international programs, and drama and theatre.

To provide a wide range of services to all the disadvantaged and marginalized parts of the society, Zardozi also reached out to the foundation to offer its services in tailoring and embroidery for disabled women. After establishing its Manbeh inside the foundation, Zardozi trainers also teach many other things based on students demand and urge for learning multiple skills.

Zardozi is impressed by the hard efforts and commitment of each individual who together run the foundation for enabling many more differently-abled populations. The organization’s firsthand experience with disabled women has helped us with understanding this particular category of people – putting us in prospect to facilitate more platforms for those whose abilities are undermined because of their differences.


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Afghan women pay a heavy price for addicted family members

Among Zardozi’s bravest and strongest clients is 30-years old Sediqa who was born in Panjshir but migrated to Kabul in search of a better life.

Life did not get any better but full of more difficulties for Sediqa. Her three brothers became drug addicts, one of whom died from taking too much opium. Upon his death, his wife married another man and left his children to Sediqa to feed.

After years of trauma and hardships, Sediqa’s second brother too became addicted. This led to the breaking off his engagement and heart attack of his father. The hospital was charging a lot for the heart surgery and by the time Sediqa managed to find a loan, she had already lost her father. Sediqa was paying a heavy price for the malicious evil of drugs that took away her brothers and father.

“Our total income was 200 Afghani per day, but it was not enough for our family. A lot of this money was wasted on my brother’s bad habit. Therefore, I and my sister started weaving bathing accessories and sold them near public bathrooms. We could get a little money to buy food.” “We had completely lost hope and the meaning of happiness,” Sediqa added.

Sediqa says that she was mentally distressed. When she saw that her neighbour women are attending trainings, she asked what are all these women learning and whether she can also attend for distraction of mind.

She attended the first day of the gender training that was provided by Zardozi trainer in Joi Sheer Manbeh. “I liked the training a lot and requested the trainer if I can come more or if the organization can financially support me,” Sediqa said.

Kadars helped her register as a client and soon Sediqa was able to join all the trainings on society, family, women’s rights and advocacy.

“After the death of my father, my family faced so many problems. People knew us by the name of drug addicts’ house, that’s why no one was ready to marry me after finding out about our background. I became depressed and financially under pressure. These trainings were the only thing that opened my eyes and taught me ways to overcome my economic situation. The trainers motivated me to set goals for my life. So I started with tailoring which earned me a moderate amount of money.

“My health improved slowly and people started respecting me for providing good services. I am supporting my younger sister and two nephews to study and continue the education I never had.”

“I hope they will have a bright future and not face the challenges I had to confront,” Sediqa concluded.


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Nadera Runs Her Restaurant Behind Closed Curtains

Thirty seven-years-old Nadera comes from Shiwaki village of Kabul. She has 9 children and is also financially supporting 9 more children from her husband’s first wife. Nadera’s husband married her when his first wife became mentally ill and couldn’t look after their family.

Nadera’s husband, who was the only bread-winner at the family, faced many financial difficulties. Therefore, Nadera started sheep husbandry which could afford them a meal for dinner. Unluckily, Nadera was diagnosed with an animal disease which was transmitted to her during sheep farming.

That’s when Nadera consulted with her husband about opening a shop where she will cook and her sons will sell the food for her. Nadera’s husband, who had always supported his wife’s decisions, sold the Sheep. At the meanwhile, Zardozi also trusted her with some loan money and Nadera was able to build the first restaurant in her village in two months.

“I am very happy for opening this place because the villagers had to go an extra mile to eat fast food. Now, they can access it within less than 5 or 10 minutes of walk. I also feel very proud that the initiative is taken by me. My relatives and family praise me a lot for this work. They are asking me to make a space for female customers as well,” exclaimed Nadera.

More than that, Nadera’s hard work and efforts were inspired by her children’s dreams who are very passionate about education and learning English and Computer just like their friends. Jawid, who is Nadera’s older son left school, because he had to either help his father at work (doing small labour) or attend his classes. “Now that my mother opened this shop, I am going back to school in the next month. I don’t know how to thank her,” said Jawid.

Nadera says that she is very happy with her husband and his first wife never made her feel uncomfortable in the house. “He is a very kind man. He has never differentiated between me and his first wife. If it was another woman instead of me, she would have forced her husband to divorce his ill wife, but I feel sorry for the other woman who is helpless and weak. We are like sisters now,” added Nadera.

Nadera’s kindness, creativity and hard work are what have made her successful so far. With the help of business, marketing, and accounting training at Zardozi, she was soon able to open up to new ideas and take risks. As she moves forward, Zardozi will stand with her because this is the talent and potential which Zardozi intends to bring out in women.


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Zardozi’s Client Fought Against Child Marriage

Zardozi’s client Eqlima teaches tailoring in one of our Community Business Centers (Manbeh) in Herat. Eqlima saved her 14-year-old student Wazhma from marrying a man three times her age. Wazhma, unfortunately, was forced to pay for her brother’s crime until her instructor interfered and the unfair agreement between the two families was broken. Eqlima narrates the story as such:

Like every other day, students came to my house to learn about new models as part of their tailoring lessons, but Wazhma, who happens to be my neighbor, caught much of my attention those days. She seemed distracted and upset and didn’t pay any attention to the lessons.

Soon after the class ended, I asked Wazhma to stay for a cup of tea and a little chit-chat. In order to get Wazhma to open up about her problem and talk freely with me, I asked about her family and how she was doing.

Within some minutes of chatting, when Wazhma no longer could hide her pain, she burst into tears and sobbed that her grandfather is giving her in marriage to an older man who has kids and is the age of her deceased father.

After asking about the reasons behind the forced marriage, I learned that her brother had accidentally killed one of his friends during playful wrestling. Therefore, the friend’s family asked for a girl in marriage so that Wazhma’s family would have paid for the price of the bloodshed.

Wazhma’s condition was heart-wrenching so I decided to speak up for her. Together with Wazhma we went to their house and spoke to her grandmother first. After a little while, her grandfather noticed that I was stopping them from the marriage. He asked me to leave his house and not to interfere in other people’s family affairs. He was convinced that his grandchild would be happy with this rich family and at the same time, she would have spared her brother’s life.

At night, I thought about all the possible ways to persuade Wazhma’s grandparents and went to their house again in the morning. Advising them did not work until I told them that we will write a complaint to the Women’s Affairs Department. Meanwhile, Wazhma also started crying and said she will burn herself if she is forced to get married. Enraged by the talk, the grandfather took me out of their house and said, “Your life will be in danger if the deceased boy’s family learns that you are manipulating Wazhma and stopping the marriage.”

At that moment, I was scared and thought about my own kids’ safety. For a few days, I would take my daughter and son to school myself, afraid that something may happen to them. However, I could also not stop myself from helping the helpless girl who needed me more than anyone at that time. “Wazhma will commit suicide,” I thought to myself. The next day, I bravely went back to their home and told them that we will either solve this inside these four walls or else we will have to go to the police and courts. Whoever is responsible for the death of the boy should bear the punishment, and Wazhma is completely innocent.

Wazhma’s family realized that I was not backing down, so they decided to talk to the boy’s family and tell them that their daughter does not want to marry the man, but if they still insist going to the court will be the last option.

Luckily, after talking to the other family, it was decided that a substantial amount of money should be paid to them to compensate for the death of their son.

“Where is Wazhma now?”

Wazhma passed the legal age to get married and is now engaged to a better person who allows her to get her education and then settle in Iran.

When the time comes, women have taken the cruelest decisions- ending their lives to put end to their suffering. Women everywhere are paying the price for their men’s debts and crimes but their weakness, innocence, and silence is what enables some men to be oppressive.

In the middle of these entire grievances, Zardozi is proud and delighted that it has given its clients the voice to stand for other women and put an end to violence.


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Roqia Finds Market for Her Spaghetti Production

They are uneducated but not uncreative. Give an Afghan woman the right support and tools and see what she is capable of. She will give it her all, once she is awakened, and once she has realized her potential and power to transform her life.

With all the women that Zardozi works with, in four different provinces, majority of them are young women and girls who have started to challenge the current status quo and contribute to the economies of their families. They are becoming the bread-winners at their homes and work shoulder by shoulder with their husbands and fathers.

Roqia from a small village of Mazar-e-Sharif is running a small food business. While her husband drives taxi during the day, Roqia is drying and packaging spaghetti with the equipment she had received from another organization who had first introduced her to the idea of producing spaghetti and making a living out of it. Lack of good marketing skills to sell her word and product brought Roqia to Zardozi where she learned the ways and techniques to improve her pre-existing business. Participating in exhibitions organized by Zardozi and attracting more customers is what Roqia says is making her product find a place in the market these days.

Ms. Roqia says that she used to lead a group of 30 women and together produced spaghetti to the market but after a year, the group dissolved and she was not able to make enough money as she could as a group. “Some women left because of family problems while others started to work individually. The reduction in the rate of production distorted my economic situation at home. The moment my neighbours spoke about the impact of Zardozi on their lives, I and my husband saw this as an opportunity,” explained Roqia.

A home that used to have 7,000 Afghanis income per month, Roqia and her husband now together makes $300 every month to run the 9 members family. Although, $300 is not a substantial amount of money to cover most of the expenses of a family, for Roqia this is a big achievement since she gained back her confidence and earned the right skills to do better in her business. At the meanwhile, she has also hired 7 more women who work with/for her. This has not only helped her increase her production rate but provide job opportunities for other women as well.
“I am very thankful to God for all its giving. The second person I am grateful to is my husband who is with me in every step of my life and helps me with my business. I am lucky to have all of these opportunities.”


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