Category Archives: Featured Stories

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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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Our House-Producers Adding Spice to Fashion World

They may know Afghans by the name of good fighters but looking deep into the country’s culture and heritage, beauty, and uniqueness define who we really are through the way we dress. Afghan handmade embroidery and designs are creating a place in people’s hearts across the globe.

In the midst of wars and the only image the world has known, uneducated Afghan women at homes and young educated women in cities are challenging the existing perception of the world about their country. They are promoting a sense of fashion that represents the magnificence of the Afghan culture and the colourfulness of its traditional clothing.

Our clothes’ designs ornamented with Afghan embroidery and Jewelleries are finding a place in international markets. This is all thanks to the creative nature of the Afghan women who have embedded their handmade embroidery into western and foreign clothing. The country is adding up more colours and ideas to the diversification in fashion.

This is where Zardozi’s women are also becoming small contributors to the fashion world. These house producers, majority of who have less or no education and have lost their sons and husbands to the war stitches to earn some money for their families. On the other side, with the help of Zardozi and its quality assurance check, their production riches and adds value to the Afghan clothing style as it gradually exposes to new markets.

Last month, on a journey to Almaty, Kazakhstan, Zardozi women’s products were displayed in Passage to Prosperity Central Asia: New Trade Horizons with Afghanistan Trade Show. “Afghan hand embroidery is well-known among neighbour and central Asian countries, but it was a different experience in Kazakhstan. It was new for the people. While most of them admired the texture, others found it expensive” concludes Yalda Azimi, Zardozi’s Market Development Manager.

For Zardozi family, it is a new experience to help Afghan women find way to international markets. Our program and marketing team is exploring new places to learn about new fashion, people’s preferences, affordability and culture around the world. Frozan who is one of our outspoken clients believes that this country offers so much more than war. “That’s what we are proving to the world while generating an income for our families,” she adds.

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Married at the age of 13, Samia raises her four children alone

Afghan women are hunted by child and forced marriages. Twenty-three years old Samia was also not able to escape this cruel destiny which put her in despair and agony. Like many parents who sold their daughters for money, Samia’s father too gave her in marriage to a shopkeeper who had lent a lot of money to her father.

In a failed attempt to get out of his debt, Samia was forced to get engaged at the age of 13.

“I grew up hating my father and all men. A 13 years old child didn’t deserve this; nobody does,” she sobbed. Samia has gone through some of the most painful days of her life. One of it was giving birth to her first child when she was only 14 years old.  After a while, her husband started to behave differently. He would not go to home all day and night and upon arrival, he would beat her and the children. Samia realized that he spends most of his time sitting with drug addicts and smoking Hashish. “I was informed by my family that he slept under ruined bridges and in destructed buildings,” said Samia. She explained that despite all her efforts to save his life and to do his treatment through the money she borrowed from the neighbors, he could not be cured.

“The next worse thing was that it was not only my husband who became a drug addict but he also dragged my brother into this disaster. None of them have any clue about what we suffer every day.”

Left alone with 4 children, Samia had to take care of everything. She and her 9 year old son begun to earn little money from working at people’s houses as servants while her son would collect cans and bottles from garbage to sell.

Samia was introduced to Zardozi by family support center of a hospital in Herat. Her trainers described her as a woman of strong will when she first came to Zardozi office. After regularly attending the trainings, Samia learned about different stories of women who had confronted their fears, challenged their families and defeated the wrong traditions as they established their mini businesses. Looking up to all these women, she urged to open her own beauty parlor.

Zardozi enrolled Samia as trainee at one of the beauty salons next to her home. When she was finally ready to start her own business, she lacked the necessary equipment and materials. Therefore, Zardozi clients cooperated with Samia as each woman donated their makeup kits and beauty products until she was able to make good money and open a shop outside her home.

Samia acknowledged, “Zardozi became my new family. The women in Manbeh were like sisters to me and I can never thank them enough for always supporting me and lifting me up. Here are many women like me who have good lives and all of this would not be possible without Zardozi.”

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Giving women their long lost identity

Zardozi works with women who come from rural, poor and uneducated families. They are unfamiliar with the world outside the windows of their mud houses. Wrong traditions and family restrictions have confined and cut their wings to thrive in their lives. They are unable to say no to all kinds of verbal and physical violence. The moment they have raised their voices, their tongues and ears are cut and their bodies are burned and buried.

Government alone is not capable of protecting women especially reaching out to those who live far away from urban areas. To fill the vacuum, Zardozi’s objective for many years has been to target these areas and boost women’s confidence and potential in there so that they can thoroughly find their own ways to approach and address a problem in their family and community.

For instance, when most of these women want to refer to government offices to have their problems solved, they are not pleasantly welcomed unless they are slightly educated, well spoken, appropriately dressed and most importantly confident. Therefore equipping them with the right skills and giving them that identity is our job and so far an achievement. Women have powerfully demonstrated their capabilities to solve their problems independently.

Recently in Jalalabad, the women who used to be nobody and insignificant part of their families and society had Jalalabad Governor, Shah Mahmood Miakhail to listen to them and to facilitate education, health care, electricity and other needs for their community. These women who also go by the name of Kadars brought together their community Malak or elders and discussed the community problems with Governor Miakhail.

The meeting was as a result of several days of phone calls, knocking doors and convincing both villagers and the Governor for switching their attention to women’s suffering and preventing it from escalating.

It was impressive and a moment of proud for the Governor when he saw Afghan women with little education but strong commitment to uplift themselves and advocate for their avowed rights to be free and independent.

In Herat and Kabul, the women’s representatives arranged meetings and signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with several private hospitals’ heads that will subsequently provide affordable health care to Zardozi women. This includes discount, and free of charge medical care in exceptional cases.

Zahra who is one of Zardozi’s clients suffered from years of untreated severe Kidney pain. Due to financial problems, Zahra could not afford a good treatment until the Kadars introduced her to one of the hospitals in Herat. The hospital agreed to treat her illness for free. Zahra said, “I am so grateful. My illness had made me less productive but now that I take the medicine I can focus on my work and life.”

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How Strategic Workshops are Helping Women to Move Forward

On July 7 -11, 2019, Zardozi conducted a five day Strategic Workshop endeavored to take necessary actions for the effective implementation of Zardozi program. The Strategic Workshops are conducted every year where Zardozi’s Regional Managers, Kadars, Executive Committee Members and other representatives of women are invited from the regional offices and gathered on one table to develop strategies, make policies and draw road maps to build the Institutional capacity of Zardozi as well as its grass roots women organization- Nisfe Jahan. The participants go through the process of identifying the organization’s immediate needs and challenges in order to develop plans for it. This also includes a review of existing plans and strategies.

In the recent workshop Kadars (community volunteers) raised some major issues that they and the women in their communities have encountered.

Zardozi directors in consultation with the participants came up with solutions that could adequately address the needs of women they serve. The workshop was more productive when Mazar-e-Sharif regional manager, Nasreen Sahibzada provided various insights and opinions from her visit to PEKKA- a sister organization in Indonesia. Many of the initiatives implemented by PEKKA were found to be applicable for women in Afghanistan as well.

The workshop was an effective platform for women not only to plan better strategies for their businesses but also to build their management and leadership skills.

It was also a good opportunity for the participants to establish network among themselves to learn from one another experience in the communities, considering the fact that they are representing different regions with different culture and norms.

At the end of the Strategic Workshop, the participants, Zardozi staff and regional managers were awarded appreciation certificates in recognition of their hard work and commitment to serve the most disadvantaged women who do not have as much access to resources as women in cities do. Zardozi is proud of working with a group of most dedicated and inspiring women as well as men who steadfastly stand behind them.

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Empowering Women through Saffron Cultivation

Women everywhere are great contributors to peace. Today, they play an active role in fighting off the on-going war by cultivating saffron instead of poppy – a crop which has partially fueled the war in Afghanistan.

Saffron also well-known for Afghan red gold, has earned an exceptional place and name in the international market. One Kilogram of the saffron harvest is $1,500 making it the most expensive crop on earth.

Therefore, the saffron business idea was introduced by Zardozi business trainers and Kadars to women attending the Ali Abad Manbeh in Mazar-e-sharif. Lajward who suddenly thought about the empty land at her backyard agreed to use it for harvesting saffron while also bringing two of her other friends into the team.“This is a very new idea. We will examine if our first year production was good, we will buy larger land than this,” said Sharifa, Lajward’s business partner.

Meanwhile, Mazar-e-sharif regional office Kadars held a meeting with Director of Balkh Agriculture Department to help Nisfe-Jahan members in this sector. On 15th of July, Balkh Agriculture Department gave 60kg Saffron to the women and promised for future cooperation. With some training from Kadar, Sharifa, Lajward and Khadija started to plant saffron seeds which will give results within timeline of one year.

Shaima who trained the group in this sector said, “If successful, the business will lead a good example for other women to cover their fields with beautiful purple flowers of saffron.”  “It is a profitable business and many women across the country are already earning a substantial amount of money”, she added.

Zardozi and Nisfe-jahan helps women to consider different kinds of business ideas so that women have more options and higher chances of succeeding at what they choose.

Most of the women in the informal business sector might be unaware of the contribution they are making to the country’s economic prosperity and peace but that has been the mission all this time. More women have come to recognize the effect they have on change both on the family level and community level.

Khadija spoke in gratefulness and talked about how Zardozi became a changing point in her life. She was able to gain her power and respect at home as she currently runs all the finances and expenditure of her home.

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How to Become a Good Businesswoman?

Many women who aspire to become businesswomen do not have sufficient information about how will they achieve that goal. They want to open their own businesses and become good businesswomen but without enough knowledge and courage to take the right steps that will walk them up the ladder, is hard.

While most of these women come with less or no education they initially have to learn the ABCs of business. Most of them find it very hard at first and are hesitant to move forward.

Zardozi has solved this situation by working closely with women to go through each phase slowly so that they don’t feel helpless and alone in this journey. The women learn about theoretical concepts along with lessons from videos that illustrate real life experiences of animated women who want to do business and succeed.

The business training videos are developed from Zardozi’s training modules in collaboration of the DFID-funded Afghan business support initiative Harakat. They have been effective for several years now, since it has made learning easier and more practical for the women. Amina says, “At first I didn’t understand what the instructors were explaining to us. I was lost about how I can relate myself to the lessons. But ever since I saw Roya (character in the video), she practically showed us what to do.”

After the business training, the marketing team walks with these women to do a shop-tour by introducing them to different markets and shopkeepers in different parts of city. Some women who demands to take order are accompanied by Zardozi staff and secures first three orders for them from a shopkeeper so that the women are familiarized with the process of contact building and contract making.

On a warm morning in Kabul, 20 women crowd together in a small room where the air of fan also does not change the fainting temperature. The women meet regularly in the same room every morning for five to six days listening carefully and enthusiastically to their trainers and video lessons that are played on a blank wall.

For Shafiqa, the heat does not seem to be much bothering. “These problems are part of our daily lives. To learn, one has to go through all troubles and I don’t want to miss this opportunity,” said Shafiqa, cleaning the sweat from her forehead.

Sitting next to Shafiqa, her close friend, Khadija said, “I always dreamt to open my own tailoring workshop, but I didn’t have any idea what I should do. With start of this training I have learned a lot especially the marketing training has been very helpful. I was able to identify my customers need and it also connected me with other tailors and production workshops in the market. I will be opening my first workshop by the start of next year.”


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Nisfe-Jahan’s New Chairwoman

We congratulate and warmly welcome Nisfe-Jahan- Zardozi’s grassroots women organization newly elected Chairwoman, Ms. Hafsa Hashimi and her deputy Ms. Farida Soorabi. Ms. Hashimi came through free elections during the strategic Workshop where Kadars and Executive Committee Members cast their vote to the nominated candidates.

Hafsa Hashimi was born in a destitute family where she and her sisters faced many difficulties to get an education. Everything came at the cost of sacrifice and hard work for Ms. Hafsa. Her motivation and sympathy for other women enabled her to very well represent our clients who come from similar background.

The Nisfe-Jahan elections are conducted every year to choose the Chairwoman and Deputy Chairwoman for one year.

Ms. Hafsa is a well-accomplished and educated woman whose knowledge and experience will be a great asset to the improvement and sustainability of Nisfe-Jahan.