Thursday, October 12, 2006
Burqa Dolls and Hydroponics
Yesterday, I went shopping. Not in the ususal sense of going to malls or stores, but by going over to Betsy's house (she's the christian fundamentalist temporarily living with us). I've complained about her before, but I don't think I've fully explained what she is doing here, partially because I didn't really understand myself until last night.
Betsy came to Afghanistan 5 years ago with about $3000 and a desire to help Afghan women. She set herself up with some refugee women living in Kabul, and has started several interconnecting projects with them. She has been teaching them how to do hydroponic gardening, helping them to increase the quality of their embroidery work and find markets for it, and she has been running literacy courses - all with the same group of women. She started with about 5 participants, and now she has 65 women who regularly delivery embroidery work, take reading classes, and run small hydroponic gardens. The really amazing part is that Betsy has absolutely no background in development, women's studies or Afghanistan. She just woke up one morning and knew that she needed to come to Afghanistan to help the women here.
Betsy lives in an apartment not far from my neighborhood, on her own. It is a smallish three room flat overflowing with handicrafts. Now, Betsy is a genius at marketing these women's work, and we're not just talking about embroidered pillowcases. She has taught her women how to make laptop bags with embroidery, wine bottle covers, i-pod and digital camera cases, backpacks, duffel bags, and non-traditional clothing. Add this to the more traditional wares of tableclothes, bedspreads, sheets, tapestries and Afghan clothes, and you begin to get the picture. She runs this operation with one Afghan man -- she handles all the inventory (which is quite complicated since most of the women she works with are illiterate) including special orders, creates mock-ups of new designs, sells the wares at the army bases on Fridays, teaches hydroponics and literacy classes, holds weekly self-help workshops teaching the women basic business skills and has become a part of their community.
She is truly an insipiring example of how one person can really make a difference in other people's lives - even if I don't agree with her religious philosophy. So, I've offered to start helping her cart her wares to the army base on Friday mornings, and hang out and sell stuff. I think it'll be good for me - get me out of the compound and doing something that feels useful. Although I am going to miss my morning to sleep in . . .
**pic is of an anatomically correct burqa doll. These are not original to Betsy's project, although these are the only ones I've seen with cleavage. . .
at 4:19 AM