One balmy morning, a breeze drifts in from the windows of a small house on the hill top where several women have gathered together, sitting in a circle with their eyes closed, meditating and repeating the mantras over and over: “May my heart be kind, my mind fierce and my spirit brave. Create a life you can be proud of.” “I am free from violence.”
Conducted in partnership with PARSA (Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support for Afghanistan), this is Zardozi’s support and counseling groups initial warm up phase of training. This happens on a bi-weekly Manbeh day where Zardozi clients meet to get out of isolation, openly discuss their problems and find solutions.
Being unrecognized, deprived of an emotional support and suppressed by violence, these counseling groups, also called “Healthy Afghan Women Support Groups,” have facilitated an atmosphere where women find hope, confidence and a helping hand to move forward.
It has been two years that PARSA has been providing these services to the less advantaged women that participate in the Zardozi Community Business Trainers. Yalda Azimi, one of Zardozi’s program team member says, “The first year of carrying out these sessions was difficult and we had to stop our work for some time, mainly due to the reason that women were not familiar with this new idea of support groups and talking openly about their most secret issues in a group of 10-20 women.”
Marnie Gustavson, the Executive Director and initiator of “Healthy Afghan Women Support Groups” in PARSA writes a blog about her experience: “In my experience, announcing a program as a psychosocial one can be the “kiss of death” for women’s support groups in Afghanistan – unless there is a heavy stipend offered for attending. Even though I had oriented them to our work a couple weeks back and assured all attending that this was not a program for crazy people, my attendees were very nervous about working with me.” Despite all that, the Zardozi team has been able to run this training smoothly with many women getting used to the idea, feeling more at ease and asking for more consultancy trainings.
Masoma says, “I feel comfortable and less isolated as I talk with other women here. Some of them have even bigger problems than me.”
During the same meeting, Laila shared with the group that her husband is taking another wife due to her inability to provide a son. Her mother in law has been urging her husband to find a new wife, leaving Laila at a loss for action or words.
As the conversation continues, more women speak about the problems they encounter, allowing the women to open up about the reasons behind them joining the support group. Zardozi provides an atmosphere of trust to the women who desperately look for help and advice.
The PARSA and Zardozi trainers say that this is not the only objective. They want to give the women a platform where they can feel better by talking but also to have an idea of solving those problems and moving forward in their lives. Hopefully these women will have enough confidence to create support groups for others to reach out to a larger amount of women facing daily violence and provide support.