Stairway to the Skies

November 29, 2022

Sakina is working with a loom, Dawlat Abad, Balkh

A young Afghan woman awakes, opens the curtains, and lets the bright sunlight flood the room. She thinks about her husband and the distance that keeps them apart. She thinks about the people of the village, and how they talk and gossip because she is childless. She wonders, do these days of hardship, stacked one above the other one day, become a kind of stairway to better days? She dries her eyes and prepares to face another day.

The young Afghan woman was Sakina, a 27-year-old living in a village in the Dawlat Abad district of Balkh province. Her husband had left because Afghanistan’s economy had collapsed after August 2021; he went abroad to look for work, first to Iran, and then to Turkey. He sends money from time to time. Before this, Sakina had been expecting children, but there were complications followed by grief.

She was determined to take total control of her life somehow. “I felt my life was wasting away, living with my mother-in-law, with my husband occasionally sending money from Turkey that never went far. I stayed indoors, knowing the villagers were gossiping about me,” she said.

One day, her fortunes turned. A neighbor invited her to join a seminar in the local mosque. The subject of the meeting was the ways that women can make their lives better for themselves and their communities. Sakina, having nothing to lose, went along. This meeting would change her life.

ABADEI is UNDP’s flagship programme for development in Afghanistan. As a component of the programme, UNDP’s partner organization on the ground, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) is travelling to remote villages and conducting seminars in schools and mosques on ways that people can build social safety nets embedded in the community, through initiatives such as saving groups.

In Sakina’s village, Qarshigak, the meeting covered three villages, a total of 20 people, mostly women. The instructors explained the principle and practice of savings groups – how local communities can pool resources to help each other, and their community, to become more prosperous. SCA explained how the UNDP programme would also provide seed money to help get the group going.

A group was launched, and Sakina was a member. Each member contributed 100 Afghanis (US$1.15) per month. The idea was that the fund could then be borrowed by group members to cover emergencies or investments, as part of a continuous process. Sakina immediately borrowed 3,000 Afghani ($34) from the group fund and bought some rolls of silk. At home, she used her weaving skills to make some table linen and towels on her hand powered loom.

“Others were afraid to borrow the money, but I took a chance,” she said.

She took her first pieces to the local market for sale and was surprised at the positive response. “I sold all of my pieces on my first day and came home with 2,500 Afghanis. I decided to buy more silk, and started making prayer mats as well. I felt like a bird that had been flying in darkness that had suddenly emerged into the bright sky.”

Sakina’s eyes sparkle with happiness as she tells her story. She is dressed in bright, colourful clothes, a reflection of her personality and her spirit of independence. Since her business took off, her life has changed remarkably.

After finishing high school, I wanted to attend the university, but my family was unable to pay. Since my business started to make money, I have been able to pay for my own tuition,” she said.

Family expenses are not on her list of worries anymore. She is now the main breadwinner of the family, a proud independent woman, subverting gender stereotypes. She even makes time to work as a volunteer teacher at the village school.

I’m so much happier and more optimistic towards life than I was three months ago.” Sakina said.

Sakina has been selected as one of the leading entrepreneurs women of saving groups.

As a leading entrepreneur, Sakina has now been selected for further support. Based on her business plan, she will now receive 47,300 Afghanis ($534) from ABADEI to expand her business. She wants to buy new equipment so she can produce more goods, adding a variety of materials and goods to her line. line.

And the savings group continues to prosper. Following Sakina’s success, other women were encouraged to borrow from the group deposit and make investments. Many women who live in villages in the area are skilled in crafts and handmade products.  If they have access to suitable funds and advice on how to start their businesses, there is a huge untapped potential for small and medium entrepreneurships.

Life is hard for Afghan people, especially for women. But there is still hope. The story of Sakina shows that communities together, with a little help from outside, can achieve their vision. In a sense, Sakina has climbed those stairs to a better life. The goal of ABADEI is to help many more women like her ascend that stairway.