Women in Afghanistan face many obstacles. Crushing poverty and a culture that values men’s education over women’s are just two. Girls, especially those living in rural areas outside of major cities, are not allowed to travel alone into the cities for special classes. Thus, there are very few Afghan girls who have English language or computer skills.
Roya’s School, started by ZAANHA Fund almost 9 years ago, gives high school girls living outside of major urban areas the chance to learn English and use computers – tools that are essential for finding decent employment.
So far, between its locations in Kabul and Mazar-e-sharif, Roya’s School has graduated 93 students. Some of its graduates are now enrolled in medical school; others are currently employed as teachers. Still others are starting university – all made possible because of the skills they learned at Roya’s School.
Many graduates of Roya’s School have elected to enter university under the English-speaking faculty, rather than Afghan. Imagine trying to take your college courses in a second language! Meanwhile, some current students prepare to take TOFEL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) courses, to enter English-speaking universities.
Stay tuned for some of the girls’ individual stories, which we are excited to share. We believe they will inspire you!
Zaanha’s story has many parts.
One essential component is the skilled master artisans with whom we proudly work. These hard-working small business owners in Nepal and India employ and support their local communities.
Meet Babu Ram. Babu Ram’s studio is responsible for our best-selling basketweaves, our four-colored rectangles, and more. This is Babu Ram’s story about how be came to start his own business.
ZH: What did you do before starting your own business?
Babu Ram: Before starting my own business, I worked for almost thirteen years in one of Nepal’s largest pashmina suppliers. I started at the bottom and eventually moved up to being the Sales and Export Manager.
ZH: How did you begin your business? Was it a difficult process?
B: I am originally from Eastern Part of Nepal. I came to Kathmandu to study. When I arrived, I got a job in a local store that sold pashmina products, and there I became fascinated with all aspects of production. I completed my Masters degree in English in 2010. In 2011, I started an EMBA (Executive Master of business Administration in Marketing), where I took business courses.
Before I started my business, I did a lot of research and collected a lot of pictures of cashmere products. I then sent those pictures to many of my international customers, in Belgium, France, Germany, and to Zaanha in the US. I received positive feedback and established my own Pashmina studio in 2011.
With my years of work in the field, I was already well-acquainted with the various processes such as weaving, coloring and dying. During my training for my Masters degree, my professors encouraged me to start my own business.
People think it is so easy to start a business, but it’s actually very difficult. Starting a business takes an investment of time as well as as money, and great courage to go off on one’s own. Before I started my business, I wrote 50 correspondents to different international customers who I knew, and received barely 15 positive responses. I am truly thankful to them who helped me in each and every step to establish and expand.
ZH: What’s an average day like for you at work?
BC: When I first started, I had to work almost 12 hours a day. Nowadays I continue to work 10 hours a day. Since I control all product production from my company, I need to check the quality and finishing for each.
ZH: You make basketweave scarves that Zaanha sells. Can you tell me a little about the process of creating them?
BC: For the basketweaves, we set up the loom using silk for the warp, then use the finest 100% cashmere for the weft. A basketweave stole is featherlight, weighing in at about 5.5 ounces. When the weaving process is completed, the scarves move on to the dying process
ZH: Where do you get the materials for the scarves?
BC: We use cashmere from inner Mongolia.
ZH: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or your business?
BC: Though cashmere is not my family business, my work experience in this industry has helped me to establish my own company. When I set up my company, the initial investment was one million Nepalese Rupees (about $9,000), with two hand looms. Now I have around ten million NP in investment and five looms.
One piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to start their own business is remember to that your most important commodity is the service you offer your customers. Always focus on customer service.
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you will be enjoying this bountiful holiday in the company of family and good friends.
I wanted to share some special thanks to you all from the girls at Roya’s School in Kabul and Mazar e Sharif. ZAANHA Fund started Roya’s School almost 4 years ago with 6 girls. To date, 31 girls have either graduated or are current students. The girls, unable to travel alone to central Kabul and Mazar to attend classes, learn English and computer skills in Roya’s home. Two of the original 6 girls were admitted to Kabul University last year because they had these skills!
I received a letter from last week from Roya and wanted to share it with you. Roya just got married and lives in Mazar e Sharif where she’s starting the second branch of Roya’s School. The original class outside of Kabul is being taught by one of the original students in her home.
A special thank you to you all from your friends at ZAANHA.
Salaam Alikm Dear Miss Wendy!
I hope you and your great family is doing well, I and my great in-laws all are fine here and everyone say salaam to you.
Five days ago since 31 October we started our new collection of girls in Mazar e sharif, totally they are ten girls, all of them are students from 7th to 12th class. I am going to attach their list and purchased bills of class materials. I will send you their attendance sheet monthly.
I wish to thank you for the support and help you provided, for your dedication, attention and open-minded thinking and for your readiness to help with very prompt response. When I told my suggestion to Nasima jan that I want to open another branch of this school in Mazar e Sharif, she smiled and took my hand with her warm hands, she volunteered to help me, and when I turned to you for assistance, you immediately agreed and did your utmost to provide it as quickly as possible. All this was done in order to make things easier for me, Thank you for opening this door of opportunity, which is a huge step for Afghan girls. Thank you so much Miss Nasima jan, and once again thank you dear and sweet Miss Wendy for giving me strength and succeed. With warm hug and kisses to both of you.
My new motto – it’s a sign I saw on the wall of a classroom in Kabul:
I have the privilege and pleasure of working with many, many very poor Afghan children and the sign you see above epitomizes their attitude. Talk about inspiring!
Local Afghans wishing only for peaceful and secure lives like you and I take for granted have had uphill battles for the past 40 years – most of the population doesn’t even know remember when their country was not at war. And today, that uphill battle is steeper. The economy is severely depressed, jobs are scarce, the insurgency is making inroads and the majority of people are uneducated.
Over the week I spent in Kabul at the beginning of October, I saw and spoke with the many of the over 50 children whom ZAANHA is now sending to school and I wanted to highlight 2 of them as well as give you an update on Roya’s School.
Their “before” stories are representative of the hundreds of thousands of children who work on the streets to help support their families. The remarkable progress they’ve made in the short time they’ve been in school is inspires awe. I hope you too will be moved by their stories.
Front row from left to right: Sadaf, Shugufa, Benezir
Back row: Wendy
Shugufa used to get up at 5am to get ready for public school which she attended from 6am–9:30am. Afghan public schools are so crowded that they are divided into 3-1/2 hour sections and there are sometimes as many as 50 children to a class. After school she went home to change and then went out to collect cardboard and papers and the wooden sticks people use to make fires for their ovens. In the afternoon she went to Aschiana for an English class and then home to do her homework, help her mother with dinner, eat and go to bed. Her parents are illiterate and she has 1 sister and 3 brothers. The family lives in one room that they rent. Her father repairs shoes and her mother takes care of the children.
Shugufa started at in ZAANHA Fund’s private school program almost 2 years ago. She had been in the 5th grade in public school, but was so far behind her Rumi School classmates that she had to go back to the 1st grade. She was in an accelerated program, learned quickly and is now in the 3rd grade. You can’t imagine my gratification when I discovered that she is now completely literate in Dari, her native language,and is learning to read and write English. She was even able to speak a little. Her mother told me Shugufa now studies all the time when she is at home. When relatives visit, they are impressed and even a little envious at how literate she is and at how educated she is becoming. Doesn’t begin to describe the pride her parents feel!
Yasin and Wendy
I remember meeting Yasin 3 years ago. At that time, he was shy and reserved.The Director of Aschiana, Nazar, told me Yasin was a gifted child and would be a great candidate for ZAANHA’s private school program. He started at Rumi and then dropped out because the commute was long and he didn’t have friends there. For a while he didn’t go to school because his family left Afghanistan. They returned over a year ago and Nazar asked me if we could send Yasin to a private school in his area.
Flash forward to my Kabul visit earlier this month. Yasin confidently strode into the conference room. He shook my hand and asked in excellent English how I was and if I was enjoying my stay in Afghanistan! I was stunned! He then proceeded to tell me “If a person doesn’t know about knowledge, he is nothing”. Incredible for a boy who is now 11 years old and illiterate only a few short years ago. He is now 11, in the 6th grade and ranks 1st in his class. He wants to learn to use a computer and take lessons – ZF will buy a computer for him and provide the funds to take special classes. Stay tuned for more about Yasin!
Roya’s School – Some of the students
(Faces are blocked out in consideration of the girls and their families)
Roya’s School was started in a small village about an hour outside of Kabul over 3 years ago with 6 girls who wanted to learn English and computers, but were not allowed to go by themselves to central Kabul where there were classes. Roya, who lived in the village and graduated from Kabul University with a degree in computer science, became the teacher and we were off to the races!
13 girls have now graduated from Roya’s School and 2 of them were admitted to Kabul University because they had computer skills and English training. Roya got married in early September and moved to Mazar e Sharif in northern Afghanistan. She is starting the Mazar branch with 10 students. Hadiesa, one of the original students and now attending a special school with advanced English courses, will take over Roya’s position in Kabul with 10 new girls. The girls who have graduated are recruiting 2 new girls each who want to learn computer basics and are teaching them. Is there any better way to reinforce what they’ve learned as well as to hone leadership skills?
I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the sunshine coming out of Afghanistan. And thank you again for your enthusiastic and kind comments. Know that I love hearing from you! Stay tuned for more…
Greetings from Kabul
Kabul as seen from the air.
Day 1- Friday
Arrived on Friday, the second day of Eid and was greeted at the airport by Nasima, her nephew Sami and a large bouquet of roses! Ever thoughtful Afghans…Hashmat, my part-time employee, as well as Aschiana’s Program Manager, met me at Aschiana and asked if I’d like to go to Eng. Yousef’s home for dinner that evening for Eid. Of course – was there ever a question?? A warm welcome was followed by a delicious dinner. Children were everywhere as were friends and other family members, all greeting me graciously.
Eng. Yousef with 2 of his daughters and Hashmat.
Day 2 – Saturday
Saturday (still Eid) was quiet and a perfect time for catch up and preparation for the remainder of my stay. Hashmat and Nazar, Director at Aschiana were at the main center where I am staying and we were able to catch up and lay the groundwork for our discussions. We ended the day with a delicious late lunch at Restaurant Istanbul where we feasted on kebobs, rice and salad. Of course, on the way home, we stopped for Shiriyakh, the Afghan equivalent of gelato. Trust me — the Italians have serious competition here!
Shiriyakh – made by hand – NO machines!
Day 3 – Sunday
What an extraordinarily productive day today!! First stop was a visit to Nasima where I picked up another order of the beautiful sheepskin vests that sold so well last year. Stay tuned for a variety of new hues including a rich shade of navy. Onward to Rumi School! Rumi is one of the top private schools in Kabul and your purchases are helping to send 12 very poor and bright children there for a chance at a better education. Rumi has offered us space to start a tiny pilot vocational business school for working street children! I’m thrilled and over the top excited about this — My dream project will soon germinate!
(1) Wendy with six of the children we send to Rumi. (2) Wendy with Mirwais (Founder), Parwana (Principal) and three children we send to Rumi.
And then Hashmat and I were off to lunch at American University in Kabul where The ZAANHA Fund secured a scholarship for Mahfouz, the young orphan who graduated from high school last year and supports his 11 brothers and sisters. It’s incredible to see him coming out of his shell and gaining confidence and self esteem – makes me feel like a proud mother!
I also met Hamida Mousavi, the young Afghan girl whose father is a baker and supports his family on $200/month. A donor who had paid her tuition in the past ran out of funds, leaving Hamida on the brink of being expelled from the university for lack of payment. We were able to thus far raise $3,000 out of the $4,500 needed. I was told she was quiet and shy – not so! I was pleasantly surprised at meeting this poised, enthusiastic and smiling young woman. When I asked her if she would help develop the curriculum for the pilot vocational business school at Rumi and teach some of the classes, she immediately said “Of course, Miss Wendy, and I will do this as a volunteer. I don’t expect to have any salary any salary from you.” All I could do was to hug her.
Wendy with Hamida and Mahfouz.
After the university visit, Hashmat and I went to see Kamela Sidiqi, an woman I met through Bpeace on my first trip to Afghanistan in 2006. I always considered Kamela an exceptionally talented businesswoman (BTW, she is the protagonist in The Dressmaker of Khana Khair
) and as if proving my point, she is now the Deputy Head of Admin/Finance for President Ghani and works out of the Presidential Palace! That means that she is 3rd in command in the government – Incredible! Ever gracious, she’s volunteered to help us the with the pilot vocational business school at Rumi as well as being a business advisor for the tailoring and computer centers at Aschiana. Oh paradise!!!
Stay tuned for Live from Kabul – Part II in a few days.
Greetings from Delhi!
I arrived for a whirlwind few days of approving, buying and planning new collections as well as enjoying some terrific food.
The response to our new color block Ladakh cashmere shawls, hand spun and hand woven in Kashmir (introduced at shows this summer) was so enthusiastic, that we will soon be re-stocked! Look for a full range of colors.
Indian artisans are diligently stitching away and putting the finishing touches on our hugely popular quilted silk/cotton jackets. New colors include navy, cobalt, deep turquoise and rich coral.We have started to schedule shows for the fall. If you would like to host a show, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shows are a lot of fun and you benefit! The following pictures will give you a sneak preview of new scarves.
And I’m pleased to report that the much loved basketweaves are back in myriad colors! They make the best gifts – for you and frankly anyone. www.zaanha.com/shop/basketweave-shawls/An almost last product report. Through the years people have told me how they loathed those annoying little brand labels on scarves. We have tried to address the problem by working with an artisan in Jaipur who reproduced our new logo using silver and other metals. I’d love to have your thoughts – email@example.com
One final piece of news — our new website which I and many others have toiled on for one and a half years is slated to go live at the end of the month! We have created a new brand identity, colors, logo and gorgeous new products. I will send a notice just prior to the launch. Feedback would be MOST appreciated!
And, on a travel note, Indian Accent, the superb restaurant located in The Manor hotel in Friends Colony in New Delhi has only gotten better, if that’s possible. And they are opening a branch in New York around the second week of December. Watch for it – 123 W. 56th St., NYC – it is truly the most extraordinary Indian food!
Off to Kabul on Friday and reunions with the many, many children your purchases and donations are helping. Stay tuned for another report in several days. This time, it’ll be all about the kids!