We’re proud that our work in Afghanistan changes the lives of real women. Here we introduce you to some of the women who have changed their lives with help from Beyond the 11th and our NGO partners.
Alla Gul is a widow in Afghanistan a country that has far too many war widows. Her husband died 10 years ago, leaving her alone with three children—two sons who are now 16 and 14 years old and a daughter who is 20 years old—but without an income. With no one to provide support, Alla Gul sometimes did house cleaning and laundry for the neighbors, who paid her a bit of money and occasionally offered food. But she didn't have enough money to send her children to school or to heat the house during winter. “I was worried and didn’t know that what would happen to me and how could I manage with all these problems,” Alla Gul remembered.
Luckily, she was found by CARE and registered to receive food rations as part of the Humanitarian Assistance for the Women of Afghanistan (HAWA) program. For several years, Alla Gul relied on CARE to help her feed her family until CARE offered her the opportunity to become self-sufficient by raising livestock. She was given a dairy cow, training in how to raise cows, and access to veterinary services.
She sold the milk she got from the cow, as well as the yogurt she produced from the milk. This, in addition to the food rations she received from CARE, resolved her children’s major health and nutrition problems. Finally, she was able to feed her children—and herself. Later, Alla Gul joined one of the community saving and credit groups established for livestock project participants.
“These three CARE interventions opened the door of success in my life,” Alla Gul said. “I could not have imagined the changes in my life. Now we have money; we can spend it and we can save it. From the money I saved in the community-based savings group and the business development knowledge that I gained there, I was able to borrow some money and open a shop for my oldest son. He has started buying and selling items there. Day by day his small business is improving. My dairy products are also sold in that shop. I applied for the group loan and received it the second and third times. I invested in the shop and from the profit we gained I managed to pay back my group loans and spend the rest on our other urgent needs.”
Alla Gul is thankful of CARE, especially the HAWA Program that supports poor widows. She adds that saving groups are an excellent opportunity for women to support each other and develop the economic status of women in Afghan society.
Pikai is a widow living in the Paghman sub-district of Kabul city. She has three daughters and two sons. Armed conflict claimed the life of her husband, who was the only supporter of the family. After losing him, Pikai struggled to eke out an existence for herself and her children. She worked on her neighbors’ land in exchange for paltry amounts of money. With little means to pay for her children’s education, she sent her son (who would have been in seventh grade) to work in a factory and kept her daughters at home. Only her youngest son went to school.
Now participating in CARE International’s livestock project, Pikai has already begun seeing enormous benefits. As she explains, “Even just a few days after receiving the cow I could understand what a big opportunity I had been given. Now we have milk and yogurt every day. I can see the change in my children’s health. Also the nearby shopkeeper told me that he will buy the dairy products at a good price. With the money I have made selling yogurt to him in just one week, I have bought food for the cow, medicine for my daughter who was sick, and food for my family. I plan to work hard and take very good care of the animal so I can earn more money and send my children to school. I am very happy for the chance to become a productive person and to help myself and my children.”
With income from her new livestock assets, Pikai is investing in her family’s well-being and eagerly looks forward to being able to send all of her children to school.
Mirmon, 37 years old, lives in District 7 of Kabul. Her husband was killed in a rocket attack in 1995. He worked as an architect for the military. Like many widows, Mirmon is the head of a large family. She has two daughters, five sons, and two grandchildren.
Khomari, Mirmon’s eldest daughter, is 21 years old, married, and has two sons. She went to school for just two years before she was forced to discontinue her education because of cultural barriers. Khomari is functionally illiterate. After her husband’s death, Mirmon had to arrange Khomari’s marriage to an unsuitable man because of severe economic problems and the unsafe environment. Now Khomari’s husband is addicted to opium and is extremely impoverished. As a result, Khomari lives with Mirmon most of the time.
Mirmon’s oldest son, Osman, is 16 years old. He sustained a severe injury in infancy and now suffers from a nervous disorder. The rest of the children go to school — in large part because of Mirmon’s determination. Her sons Basir, Shafi, Saber, Neamat, and daughter Lailuma are all teenagers. Mirmon’s mother also lives with the family. Although she helps with some housework, she often is sick and needs medicines.
One day Mirmon met representatives of CARE International who were conducting a survey. Mirmon learned that she qualified for a monthly food ration from the CARE program Humanitarian Assistance for Widows of Afghanistan (HAWA), a Beyond the 11th grantee. To generate income, Mirmon began sorting and cleaning peas as well as spinning wool. In 2004, she qualified for HAWA’s poultry-raising project and received hens, feed rations, and chicken-coop materials. Armed with new technical skills and productive assets, Mirmon successfully raised chickens and used the extra income to pay for school expenses. After joining the poultry initiative, she never again had to pull her sons out of school to work. Today she continues her poultry business.
In early 2008 Mirmon persistently requested a dairy cow. She participated in training for livestock husbandry and received a dairy cow. Now she is a successful dairy producer. She sells milk and yogurt to neighbors and at the local market.
“I have two readily available, best-quality protein sources in my home for my children and my guests”, she says. “All of my sons except my elder sick one and a girl are going to school and I have decided to send all of them to the university. It requires hard work, but I hope generous people from here and from other countries and charity organizations will never forget us. I thank CARE, who supported us in that harsh and disappointing Taliban era and after then even until today.”
Bararkat, 46, lives in Andkhoi with her two children and her brother’s family. She was widowed when Mujahidin fighters attacked her home and murdered her husband, leaving Barakat with no choice but to move into her brother’s home.
Soon after, Barakat’s daughter grew seriously ill. The hospital refused to treat her, however, because Barakat couldn’t pay for the treatment. Barakat worked tirelessly as a servant and eventually earned enough money for a hospital visit. Although Barakat was relieved when her daughter’s health improved, the family’s poverty remained acute.
Several years ago, Barakat enrolled in a program led by Arzu through a Beyond the 11th grant. She now earns income steadily and can buy food and other necessities for her children each day. “With the first bonus I bought wheat, rice and a heater,” she says. Barakat also graduated from Arzu’s literacy courses and says she is excited to be able to read. “I am very happy of assistance of Arzu and always keep my prayer for Arzu’s success,” Barakat says.
Salbi, 48, is a widow with five children. Two years ago, her husband contracted tuberculosis, and Salbi watched, devastated, as he suffered and shortly passed away. She and her children now live with a friend and are $800 in debt. Before Salbi found Arzu, a Beyond the 11th grantee, she wove rugs to earn money, but the income barely sustained her family. “We did not have anything to eat in the winter, we had no heat or proper clothes,” Salbi says. Making matters worse, Salbi was seriously ill with high blood pressure and excessive bleeding. Doctors told her she needed an operation, but she could not afford to get to a hospital, let alone pay for treatment.
Since joining Arzu’s program, Salbi earns consistent income and can always buy enough wheat, oil, and rice. Additionally, Arzu has driven Salbi and her children to health clinics and has given them access to education. “My daughters can read anything and feel a lot of joy,” Salbi says. “The courses for them are refreshing. With the help of Arzu, we have been saved from poverty and hunger. We are so happy from the help we receive from Arzu.”
Negina is the first recipient of an Arzu scholarship, made possible through a grant from Beyond the 11th. Her mother is a widow who has participated in Arzu programs.
Negina is 25 years old and lives in Andkhoi Saqiz Khana, a 10-hour drive north of Kabul and about one hour from the Turkmenistan border in the northern part of Afghanistan. It is a barren region, with perpetual drought and problems finding drinkable water. Homes are made of hard clay, and roads are giant wet ruts in winter, and giant dry ruts in summer — making travel between villages difficult. Camels and donkeys are as common a form of transport as vehicles, adding to a sense that time stands still here.
For the vast majority of women in and around Andkhoi, weaving is the only possibility for work. Weaving can be done at home, and family members can help. Through the education component of the Arzu program, they are given a chance to be the first in their family to have an option beyond a life of weaving.
Negina is the first woman in the Arzu program to complete the standard 12 grades in Afghan education and yearns to continue her education. She has chosen to attend the Sheberghan Midwife School in the city of Sheberghan, approximately an hour and a half south of her home.
For two years, she will study from Saturday through Thursday, then return to Andkhoi on Thursday night to spend the holy day, Friday, with her family before returning to Sheberghan. In school she will learn how to deliver babies and assist pregnant mothers, including how to conduct antenatal and postnatal check ups. These skills are in desperate need in Afghanistan, a country with the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and where 25% of children die before their fifth birthday.
Negina says, “When I graduate from midwife school, I would like to work with an NGO that focuses on health or at the Andkhoi District Hospital to serve the Andkhoi people.”
Negina, the oldest child of Rohi Jan, has three brothers and three sisters. “My family faced many, many difficulties during the Taliban regime, and we were not permitted to go to school,” she says. “But now I am very happy to join the midwife school so I can help others. This is the happiest time of my life. I thank you for this opportunity.”
Update: Negina graduated midwife training in Sherbergan in 2008 and shortly thereafter began her residency in March at the Pashtunkot District Hospital, about one hour from Andkhoi, still in Faryab Province. As of March 2010, Negina is still working as a midwife at the the Nejat Center Clinic in Andkhoi.In addition, she recently began assisting the clinic with the care of mental health patients.This added experience has sparked a new interest for Negina.She would now like to return to school to obtain a degree in public health so that she can better assist those around her.
Taj is not a widow, but her work is changing the lives of widows in her community. Taj’s work has been supported through a Beyond the 11th grant to Bpeace.
In 1998, at age 18, Taj returned to Afghanistan after growing up in a Pakistan refugee camp. In short order she became a wife, mother, started a school, and found a job with OXFAM. At the age of 25 she started a small soccer ball manufacturing business in Daikundi Province.
Thirty illiterate women and widows made up her original workforce and she entered the Bpeace entrepreneur program two years later.
Taj’s business has grown directly through her involvement with Bpeace. Last year, she learned quality control, inventory management, and marketing in the US, through the Bpeace apprentice program. Taj then trained her workers to decrease waste, and immediately saved enough to hire 10 more employees. We helped her purchase a generator and electric cutting machine, significantly increasing production. And in 2010, she will sell soccer balls to American families.
Today at age 29, Taj employs 300 Afghan women who support more than 1,800 family members. In her words, “Bpeace has helped my business provide a regular income for poor women. This is a great achievement for Afghan society.” Her workers’ families can now afford a better quality of life, and send their children to school. With something to lose, these Afghans are motivated to press for peace.