Zardozi from Afghanistan
Emerging from the DACAAR Sewing Circle, a group with over a quarter century's experience working with the women in Afghan refugee camps, Zardozi endeavors to protect the unique and cultural embroidery skills which might otherwise be lost amid the tide of conflict and displacement.
An independent, registered non-profit NGO since 2005, the Zardozi enterprise works with Afghan communities across borders to assist both refugees in Pakistan and those still at home in provinces throughout Afghanistan. Unlike the region's well-known carpet weaving industry, the majority of profits from the embroidery and sewing work are kept by the artisans themselves, enabling them to improve their lives directly through education for children, medicine, and security for the future.
Mutabeqa was brought to Afghanistan from a small village in Kunar Province when she was only a year old. Soon afterwards, her father died, and her older brothers married and took their wives to live separately. Mutabeqa was left alone with her mother. She is now 27 and unmarried; because of the abandonment of her mother by her brothers it is unlikely that she will ever be married.
Although she never had the chance to go to school, her skill in embroidery and her undoubted leadership qualities were recognized early on by the Zardozi staff. For the past decade, she has been the link between the approximately 500 female embroiderers in Bagicha refugee camp and the Zardozi office. She collects the women's work, checks it for quality, receives the money, and pays the embroiderers. Although her brothers regard her work as a family disgrace, they have never offered to support her and her mother, so she continues to work despite their complaints. Within the camp, every family knows Mutabeqa, and through her work, she has earned much respect -- an unusual situation for an unmarried woman in this culture.
Razima is a slight, worn-looking lady. She has been in the Bagicha refugee camp in Pakistan for the past 22 years, ever since she fled the mountains of her native Kunar Province with her family when she was 15 years old.
Razima has 10 children, ranging in age from 8 to 18. Twelve years ago Razima's husband, who was employed as a guard in a school, fell and broke his arm. Due to poor medical treatment, the arm never healed properly, and he has been unemployed ever since, leaving the family without a breadwinner. The situation was desperate. Fortunately, Razima's sister had learned the craft of embroidery through Zardozi (or DACAAR, as it was known then), and she trained Razima, who in turn trained her daughters as they became old enough. Their skill in embroidery has enabled the family to survive, and now there is even money left over to send the younger children to school.