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Embroidering her way out of poverty

Zainab and her family fled to Pakistan during the Taliban rule and lived a life of hardship. As Afghan refugees, it was hard to make ends meet. To find gainful employment, Zainab acquired the skills of intricate stitching and embroidery. Still, she could hardly feed her family. As an Afghan working for a Pakistani employer, her earnings were meager, despite long hours of embroidering handmade women’s apparel.

Zainab and her family returned home right after the collapse of the Taliban regime,  but  she  was  jobless  for  three  consecutive years and her husband, Sayed Ibrahim, was supporting the family by selling fresh fruits in the market.

Zainab, 40 years old, lived in a rental house in the Qala Shada area of Kabul with her husband and five children: four sons and one daughter. Life began turning around when Zainab met a loan officer from Parwazmicrofinance institution several years ago.  She had always wished she could have her own embroidery business but thought it was just a dream that could never happen. Zainab was unaware of microfinance organizations in Afghanistan. So when she was encouraged to apply for a loan, she took out AFN 5,000
and independently started the business of stitching and selling handmade clothes.  She slowly expanded her business by increasing her loan amounts. Before Parwaz was exited the sector, Zainab’s fifth and last loan amounted to AFN 20,000. In      2010, Parwaz clients were introduced to Mutahid Development Finance Institution. Having an outstanding credit history, Zainab received continued support from Mutahid. Her first Mutahid loan was AFN 30,000 from two years ago; and her second was AFN 50,000. Throughout   the   years,  Zainab   managed   to expand her business of handmade clothes and now  she  is  the  proud  owner  of  a  business employing more than 50 Afghan women.

“We have progressed a lot,” said a beaming Zainab.  “Each of them earns between 4,000 to 5,000 Afghanis per month.  And  I  have  no problem  selling  our  clothes  because  I  have agreements  with  many  shopkeepers  in  the market, who buy our final products.”

Zainab  is  now  registered  with  the  Afghan Chamber  of  Commerce  and  Industries  (ACCI) and has a work permit too. Her net profit exceeds AFN 20,000 per month and she is expecting to increase it as she has recently opened a new shop in Qala Shada Market. Sayed Mustafa, Zainab’s 20-year old son is running the shop when he is off school. Recently, she has also opened a savings account. Zainab’s business has had a positive impact on various aspects of her life and that of her family, including relatives. For two years, Sayed Ibrahim, Zainab’s husband was incapacitated, following an accident that broke his leg. Zainab was able to support the family as the sole breadwinner.

“My husband values what I do. Especially when he was sick and in bed,” she said. “Look at foreign countries, they’ve developed because everyone works, including women. We are still backwards in our ways because women don’t work.”

Zainab has also invested on education.  All her school-age children are enrolled. Sayed Mustafa also enrolled in preparatory courses for the university entrance exam (Kankor). Zainab provides support to her aging mother and has also shouldered a significant portion of her brother’s wedding costs. When  asked  about  her  future  plans,  Zainab confirmed  that  she  has  received  orders  from abroad, especially Iran, and is planning to expand her business with larger loans from Mutahid. Zainab’s story exemplifies the transformative impact of microfinance to poverty alleviation and women empowerment.

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