Artisan Handmade Goods Toward Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery


You’ve heard about countries where people survive on less than $1 a day, and Afghanistan is one of those many countries.

Being a war-torn country means that a lot of infrastructures that can potentially create jobs don’t do that anymore, leaving an income gap in most Afghan families. It is little wonder that when the Taliban regime wanted to pay unemployed young men ten times that amount to work for them, many went forward, inevitably leading to further social destructions. What alternative income means do families, where these young men come from, have in order to feed themselves or even obtain an education? The Turkmen Women’s Active Rights Association of Afghanistan (TWARA) is one of the non-governmental organizations (NGO) formed to counter the destructive vicious cycle perpetuated by the Taliban government.

 

 

Run by women for women, TWARA believes that if everybody works together, an alternative economy can be formed, one that is not like what the Taliban government set it out to be. One of its main focuses is to help women obtain economic independence and education which will in turn mean support for their families and immediate communities.

Formed in 2005, TWARA works primarily with women who live along the banks of the Amo River in the northern part of Afghanistan, an area which has little access to clean water, roads, electricity, health care or schools. Women from this district also have low literacy rate and face hardships because of their economic situation and are financially unsustainable.

In order to help women gain economic independence and education, TWARA established the Turkmen Women’s Handicraft Center, which focuses on providing training in handicraft to women. The center also acts as a marketing channel for these handmade products such as woven carpets, embroidery and jewelry to the international consumer market. Working in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, handicraft schools are also being introduced into various provinces around Afghanistan, so that this form of skills training can reach more women, equipping them towards long-term employment which will in turn lend a hand towards Afghanistan’s economic recovery process.

TWARA maintains an online showroom with its range of products such as embroidery and handmade jewelry. It also promotes its handmade products through popular sites such as The Hunger Site to promote its products (mainly jewelry range) through them.

Besides the use of online channels to market their handmade products, TWARA has also participated in several international handicraft fairs and gift markets in the US which promote fair trade goods supporting artisans and their communities. TWARA was represented at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico, USA in July 2010 as well as another handmade gift fair held by One World Project in the same month.

Being part of international handmade and fair trade gift fairs helps NGOs such as TWARA gain more recognition in the global marketplace as well as allows the TWARA team to network with potential business partners and keep them in line with consumer trends, giving them new ideas for their artisan jewelry and embroideries.


Women of Hope Gives Afghan Women New Lives


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In a globalized, inter-connected world, the tragic plight of women in Afghanistan excluded in a male-dominated Taliban regime inevitably reached and touched the hearts of women from other countries. One of these many women was Betsy Beamon from the United States.

The world changed after September 11th took place and it also ended Beamon’s 24-year career in aviation. A trip to Afghanistan during a year’s break from work opened her eyes to the plight of Afghan women and children trapped in a society that provided them with no means to fend or provide for themselves. This eventually led her to set up Women of Hope, a not-for-profit organization that wanted to enable women to be self-sustainable.

Her first project under Women of Hope was a hydroponic project that taught women how to plant their own food. Though that was short-lived because of circumstances, Beamon’s passion didn’t fade. With a growing community of volunteers and supporters behind her, her perseverance eventually led to her biggest project ever – the Embroidery Project.

The Embroidery Project supports more than 1,000 women who hand embroiders products like bookmarks, ornaments, pillow cases, aprons, table linens etc which are sold in the US and Afghanistan. Through Women of Hope, Beamon also established a Learning Center in Kabul, Afghanistan to teach these artisan women how to sell their handmade products, learn literacy as well as start up their own business. Equipping Afghan artisan women with skills that will find them jobs or help them create their own business means that they can in turn invest in their children and families.

Thousands of women have benefited from the Women of Hope project. Satara’s story is one of the many.

From a young age, Satara already had to find means to support her family. Without so much as an education, she managed to get by through the years by begging from door to door for food scraps and small change.

When Satara first came to the Learning Center, she was hoping to sell some pieces of embroidery she made out of old scraps of clothing. The exquisiteness of her handicraft work caught the attention of staff at the Center. Life took a turn for Satara at that point and even though she was simply equipped with the basic necessities required to embroider, such as needles, silk thread and fabric, Satara wept with all her heart because of the new hope she found through Women of Hope.

Today, Satara has earned enough to pay her sister’s way into school, has money for her mother’s medical expenditure and sufficient finance for food, clothing and housing. She is also one of the Center’s finest producers.

It is organizations like Women of Hope that have turned stories such as Satara’s from one that is heartbreaking to one that is joy-filled. With work, Satara knows she has a future and new hope in store for her.

Women of Hope handmade products by artisan Afghan women can be found at sites such as The Hunger Site.


Giving Afghan Women Their Self-Worth through Work


Mutabeqa is an extraordinary woman in her culture because she is doing something that most women in developed countries are already doing – work.

As a woman, working is out of the norm and can be considered a disgrace in her Afghan culture.

Unmarried and having to support her mother, Mutabeqa’s superb embroidery and leadership skills made her stand out in her community, making her an important asset of Zardozi, a sewing centre for Afghan women that works with families in refugee camps.

Mutabeqa’s work is deemed a disgrace to her family by her brothers, who abandoned her and their mother, because a working woman is still unaccepted in the Afghan culture. This is a perception that non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as Zardozi hopes to change.

Playing an important role at Zardozi, Mutabeqa’s role is to check on the quality of handmade goods and make sure the artisans are paid on time. Zardozi plays the vital link between the artisans and the mass consumer market, ensuring the appeal and quality of products are top-notch to keep these artisans’ livelihood sustainable.

A story like Mutabeqa’s is amazing yet hers is one of the many stories of resilient women in Afghanistan who are willing to forego family disgrace in order to focus on the practical needs of her family and immediate community.

Since 1984, Zardozi has been providing employment for over 3000 families at refugee camps along the Pakistani border. Marketing these handmade goods to the global marketplace, Zardozi helps to ensure that the refugee families have money to provide themselves with basic health and afford education. Because of the closure of refugee camps in 2008, Zardozi continued to provide employment for these families even after they moved back to eastern Afghanistan, so that their income would have some form of continuity.

The beauty of embroidered Zardozi products. Photo: Zardozi

In 2007, Zardozi set up Ganjina, a craft centre situated strategically in Kabul, Afghanistan, a prime location for trade to take place. Some of the handmade products that are sold there include jewelry, shoes, accessories, clothing, books, visual arts, calligraphy etc.

Zardozi currently employs more than 60 people in manufacturing products, product sales as well as camp outreach.

Some of Zardozi’s beautiful range of products can be found at The Hunger Site, where every purchase ensures a certain percentage goes to the purchase of free books for children in need, making education for the next generation possible. Like Zardozi, The Hunger Site supports the provision of fair wages to artisans.

To hear stories from the Afghan artisan women directly check out the video below, which promotes the sale of Afghan artisan products from The Hunger Site:


Fair Trade for Women in Afghanistan


Afghan women learning and making jewelry together. Photo: One World Projects

 

In a society obsessed with and snowed under consumerism, most of us buy without thinking about the origins of the products we purchase. Questions such as where the materials come from (South Africa? Pakistan? India?), who harvested them (below-wage laborers or at fair wage?) and who made them (factory made or handmade?) don’t come to us conscientiously because of the large amount of stuff we buy on a regular basis. Most of our products these days change through so many hands before they come to us and the profits that go into each stage of transfer means the laborers at the bottom of the food chain are at the greatest disadvantage and work the most for the least amount of wage.

Some businesses, however, are built on ethical principles that counter this ravaging behavior that consumerism produces and uses business as a means toward social change and community impact. One World Projects is one such initiative that is founded on the principles of fair trade, socially and environmental consciousness in conducting its business. Working with local development agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries around the world, one of the things they are passionate about is providing fair wages to its workers which in turns build up the lives of these workers and their communities.

One of the many organizations that One World Projects work with is the Madina Handicrafts Community (MDC), an NGO in Afghanistan that empowers women who are either disabled or in vulnerable situations by providing them with an education, teach them literacy as well as teach them basic business skills which will go a long way for them as individuals as well as their communities. These Afghan women are also taught how to make jewelry, which is a way of providing them with relevant trade skills that can bring them sustainable income. Handmade jewelries by these women are currently sold through One World Projects to various businesses around the world.

Handmade jewelry by Afghan women.

Handmade jewelry by Afghan women. Photos: One World Projects

MDC works with more than 200 women, most of who are disabled and from various war-town provinces such as Kabul, Qarabagh and Wardak.

Some encouraging stories can be found amidst these women. Shaima Shafaq, a victim of Afghanistan war, hosts the MDC workshop located in Kabul right in her home. Having been shot by an Afghan soldier didn’t deter her spirit. Instead, she desires to inspire other women like herself who have suffered the pains of the war, and hope that through an open, giving attitude, she can inspire others to lead better lives and bring them out of their own seemingly hopeless situations.

Retail and wholesale purchases of these handmade jewelries by MDC can be made directly at One World Projects’ website as well as through eBay’s World of Goods site, a sub-site especially dedicated to ethically produced, eco-friendly merchandise.

When we make an ethical decision to support and purchase the handicrafts of Afghan women such as those from MDC, we can do our part to help them rebuild their lives and their country, which will eventually bring peace to their land.


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