BAMYAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Connie Duckworth, Arzu Studio Hope founder and president, wrapped up her six-day tour of Afghanistan, June 12, in Bamyan, where her efforts to create a better quality of life and foster a sense of economic and social independence for Afghan women began.
Duckworth invested her time, effort and heart into the central Afghan province, nearly destroyed by Taliban a decade ago, and established Arzu, meaning hope in Dari, a nonprofit organization that provides sustainable income to Afghan women by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave.
Afghan rugs, the cornerstone of Arzu Studio Hope, are knit by Afghan weavers within their residences. The weavers participating in the Arzu program fulfill their part of the agreement by sending their children to Arzu-funded schools and obtaining mandatory healthcare.
“We’ve seen tremendous improvement in the quality of life for these families,” said Hamid Hekmat, country director of Arzu. “At first the weavers would spend their money on feeding their children. Then months later they’d spend their money on shoes for their children. Now we’ll go to their homes to deliver wool and we’re seeing TVs and satellite dishes for their TVs.”
Bamyan gained international headlines when the Taliban destroyed historical Buddhas, chiseled into the mountainsides centuries ago. The international community, including historical societies, museums and United Nations, pleaded with the Taliban not to destroy the sacred figures, with pledges of financial compensation to stop their attacks. The Taliban refused. The province, now led by Afghanistan’s only female governor, endured years of conflict between local fighters and Taliban. After the assistance of coalition forces, government aid and nongovernmental organizations, security and stability was established, and the people of Bamyan looked forward to a new beginning.
Nine years after the Taliban was ousted from the region nestled between the Hindu Kush Mountains, Duckworth and her team opened the doors to the Bamyan Women’s Center.
The facility features a heated indoor laundry room with 12 sinks, tea room, a two-story loom room that houses four-large looms for weaving rugs, two 40-person classrooms that host literacy classes and instructional courses, private toilets and a community courtyard. The building is lit and heated mainly via solar panels, with alternate heating provided by briquette-burning stoves made from recycled materials. The center provided an alternative for local families, whom often had to travel far and through harsh weather to wash their clothes and dishes. During the frigid winter months, the women have to break through ice in the river to wash their clothes and dishes.
Duckworth and Razia Jan, the in-country director for Arzu, were pleased with their observations at the women’s community center. Bamyan women played both roles of teacher and student, teaching and solving arithmetic and reading Dari passages from textbooks. Children roamed freely throughout the playground adjacent to the women’s center. Inside the center, women learned how to bake European pastries, which will turn for profit at the local bazaar.
“This is amazing,” said Duckworth, who also sits on the Afghan Women’s Council. “It’s amazing to think about where this region was 10 years ago, and look at it now. Women are working and bringing home an income. They’re going to literacy classes and even learning English.”
Duckworth and Jan hope to use their efforts and success in Bamyan as a model for future Arzu operations throughout the country, particularly Helmand province.
“We visited Helmand province and found three possible locations to begin a new project for the Afghan people,” said Jan. “Now we’ll go back and figure out which location is more stable and where a project like this would thrive. It’s successful in Bamyan because of the support we receive from the local government, staff and the Afghan women who strongly desire to educate themselves and put money in their pocket.”