Artisan Spotlight: Zardozi Markets, Afghanistan

Rising Team - Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Zardozi Markets started as an income-generating project set up 26 years ago to assist some of the women in the hundreds of thousands of families which poured across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan when fighting started. Today thousands of poor Afghan women earn a steady income from embroidery and handicraft production thanks to Zardozi. Rising International was referred to Zardozi by our friends at the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, and we have proudly partnered with and supported their program since 2013. All of the women at Zardozi describe having an income of their own as life changing in terms of achieving status as individuals in their families and communities and allowing them some control over their own lives.

Razima’s Story

“Hello. My name is Razima, and I was 15 years old when I migrated to Pakistan in 1988 from Afghanistan to escape the war. I spent some time in the Baghicha refugee camp, and while I was there I married a security guard who worked for a private company. I lovingly mothered 9 children from my marriage, and built a home for us in Peshawar. I had happily settled down in life until one unfortunate day when my husband met an accident that left him paralyzed, unable to work or earn. Being a self respecting and brave woman, I turned to my embroidery skills to cater to the needs of my family and the medical expenses of my husband. I am grateful for the opportunity to use my skills to provide for my family.”

Artisan Spotlight: Hmong Tribe | Thailand

Rising Team - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our partner group Amano employs 40 full-time Hmong artisans in northern Thailand. The Hmong are an ethnic group who have origins in Siberia, and have migrated south over centuries. Today, the Hmong live throughout Southeast Asia, and in the highland areas of southern China. 

The word Hmong means “Human Being” or “Free People” in the Hmong language. They are primarily subsistence farmers and gatherers, and their artisan income is typically crucial supplemental income to their farming. Of the 40 Amano Hmong artisans, 25 live in the highlands of northern Thailand, and make traditional Hmong textiles. The other 15 artisans work in a workshop in Chang Mai, making embroidered purses and jewelry. This is where Rising’s Amano Wrap bracelets come from! These artisans are highly skilled and specialized in their craft, and in this instance they are the primary wage-earners for their families. Because of the income the women are earning from their handicraft, they no longer work in agricultural jobs.

Interesting to know: The Hmong traditionally live together in large, extended families. Their elders are greatly respected. The culture also respects their ancestors, and they retain cultural identity through telling of ancient stories and poems.  Women’s crafts include traditional handmade textile work (clothing and quilts) using a reverse appliqué quilting method. The major themes in their work incorporate symbols for love, longevity, and life.

See the beautiful Amano bracelets here.

Photo credit: Amano Fair Trade

When we dare...

Carmel Jud - Wednesday, July 23, 2014
On May 11, 2002, I gave up my successful advertising business and launched Rising International right from my living room. I had been searching for my purpose, and when it came calling, I listened. My husband and I sold everything we owned and moved into a friend’s barn while we worked to get Rising off the ground, and today we are the first non-profit in the world to use the home-party business model to contribute to solving poverty.

My very first project was in Afghanistan. I met a young Afghan woman who was in the U.S. on scholarship, and she introduced me to her mother Jamila. I was shocked to learn that Jamila had run a secret school for girls in Kabul during the time of the Taliban, and that she had literally risked her life in the name of gender equality and education.

Below is an excerpt of Jamila’s story, in her own words, translated from Dari. I hope you find it as inspiring I as did then, and as I still do to this day. She truly demonstrates what we are capable of… when we dare.

Jamila’s Story:

“The word feminist is not one you hear frequently in Afghanistan. But if you were to have my daughter describe me, that is the word that would come first to her mind. As long as I can remember I was passionate about knowledge, and I knew that education was freedom.

When I was 6 years old I decided to secretly enroll myself in school. I rose to the top of my class of 2000 students, eventually receiving my Bachelor’s Degree.  I became a teacher, and I was the first woman in my family to receive a formal education.

In 1996 the Taliban took control. In one moment our world changed. We were stripped of our freedoms, and women were prisoners in our own homes. Never in history has there been a regime that has violently forced half of its population into house arrest.

I waited 6 months hoping that I could go back to work as a teacher, but that day never came. I knew I had to do something for my daughters, for myself, and for all of the women around me. I started a secret school for girls in the basement of my home.

We had no electricity, one carpet for the students to sit on, and for a chalkboard I used a piece of flat wood and painted it black with the liquid you find in old radio batteries. I only had one book in our local language of Dari, and the Holy Quran which I used to educate the girls.

One day the Taliban found out. They followed one of my students to my home. That girl never came back to school, and I never found out what happened to her. They shouted at my husband, and hit me. They told my husband that if I didn’t stop the school they would kill me.

I felt so much rage in me.  I shouted at them ‘You are born of a woman too! How can you not let women get an education?!’  My husband pleaded with me to close the school because he knew they would kill me. For my family’s safety, I complied.

A year after the Taliban was defeated, one of my daughters was awarded a scholarship to study in America. My husband and I decided to take another risk: we became the first Afghan couple to allow a daughter to travel to the United States for higher education. My daughter became the first Afghan woman to receive her Master’s degree after the Taliban.

One day in 2003 she called me and told me she had met an American woman who wanted to help Afghan women. Together with Carmel Jud of Rising International, we began the Afghan Widows Doll Project. I contacted 10 women who had once been in my secret school to begin making traditional Afghan Dolls. They made the dolls, and the Rising Representatives in the United States sold the dolls at small parties in people’s homes. Together, we had started a project that could help the women earn a living for themselves.

Today our project continues. My former student Fatima is now a Rising Artisan, a success, and an inspiration. She, along with a number of other vulnerable widows, continues to make the dolls by hand, and the income she has generated making dolls has been life-changing for herself and her family. Every doll she sells and every doll we buy keeps Fatima, her daughter and other women safe.

Running the secret school, I knew the punishment could be death. Punishment for education of girls ranged from hanging to stoning.  I risked my life because I believe women and girls matter, I believe education is a human right.  I believe that anything is possible when you put your fears aside and do what’s right!”

Photo credit: Alyssa Cutler

Click here to see an excerpt from Jamila's Keynote Speech at Rising's San Francisco Launch Event.

This blog post is also featured on Huff Post Impact's blog!

Artisan Spotlight: Art Matènwa, Haiti

Rising Team - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Maténwa is a hidden community in Haiti. Difficult to get to, no phones, no electricity, no running water, no real roads and unknown by most Haitians, Maténwa has little direct access to the outside world. Since 2004, Rising International has supported The Art Matènwa Program. The program’s mission is to foster the artists’ determination to survive creatively — through art, education and economic security. 

Makilez’s Story
“I was brought to Matènwa when I was young. My family couldn’t keep me anymore.  But I went to the Lekol Kominote Matènwa and Chris Low took care of me. I was one of the original seven artists that Chris and Ellen taught how to paint scarves on Chris Low’s veranda. The first rule was if we were still in school we had to keep going. We had never drawn anything before so it took time to do it correctly. Chris also taught us how to keep records of what we made. Then we taught the next group how to do it. I’m one of the best painters because I’ve been doing it the longest. I have three little children now who will all go to school.”

Photo credit: Ellen LeBow/Art Matènwa

Click to view a product from the Art Matènwa Project

In Memory of Nadera

Rising Team - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Nadera, like so many of our artists, was not only poor, she lived in a treacherous, dangerous part of the world. Along with her two sons, Nadera lived in Kabul, Afghanistan. Kabul is still a hostile area full of famine and hardship. Safety in Kabul is limited. In 2007, as Nadera walked to the market, she was taken from us… killed by a bomb placed in a vegetable cart by a suicide bomber.

Nadera was of one of our artists, and it is with a sad heart that Rising International announces her death.

Shunned by her husband for association with a sister who had spoken of divorce, and in dire need of money to raise her boys, Nadera found hope in making dolls to sell. She was inspired by a teacher in Kabul named Jamila Hashimi. Nadera was one of thirty-five women with whom Jamila works with, teaching literacy and sewing skills. This quiet group of widows and women abandoned by their husbands gathering in Kabul would otherwise be forgotten in this harsh and adverse environment. In a small room, with one sewing machine to share among 35, Nadera could make a living for herself and her boys.

Nadera was one of the poorest people in the world, and consequently her death could have gone unnoticed, like the thousands of other women in her same situation. But we can change this.

In her honor, Rising International will keep the last shipment of thirteen of Nadera’s dolls and reserve a place of honor for them. We will also rename our Afghan Women’s Doll Project "The Nadera Doll - An Afghan Women’s Empowerment Project." When you see one of these beautiful handmade dolls, please join us in remembering Nadera.

Click to view products from the Afghan Dolls Project

Shaemah's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shaemah is one of the Afghan widows who made dolls for Rising. She had two daughters and two sons; she was too young when her husband was taken from the family. When Shaemah joined the Nadera Doll Project, she looked too nice. Unlike the other widows, who look too depressed and sad, Shaemah was a healthy and young woman. It was hard to believe that she was a widow. Shaemah would laugh all the time and talked openly.


Sadly, two weeks after our Rising Team was able to interview Shaemah at her home in Kabul, we learned she unexpectedly died from a heart problem. While Shaemah is no longer with us, we have her story to share, and in her place her eldest daughter has taken on the responsibility to care for the family and sew dolls to sell with Rising International.


She shared her life story like this:


I was in secondary class eight of school when my family engaged me to my husband, Ahmad. After one year, we celebrate our wedding party, and in accordance with Afghani tradition, I stayed at home and I couldn’t continue my studies. But I was too happy in my own family. Our economic situation was good. My husband could afford a home and a lot of property.


Then the Mujahideen government came to power. My husband’s cousins, who left Afghanistan during the communist times, came to Kabul. Because my husband had much land and many properties, the cousins would come from time to time to our home and would talk with my husband. They seemed like very close friends, but after a few months, they threatened my husband and told him, “You were a Communist because you lived in Capital of Afghanistan (Kabul)!”


My husband never told me that his cousins threatened him. Then, one day, when I was busy in the kitchen my husband came and asked me to give him one pot with which to bring some vegetables from our garden. I gave him a pot, and he went away. Five minutes later, I heard our gardener shouting, “Ahmad was killed by a person who had stood above the garden’s wall and shot Ahmad.”


We all ran to the garden. He was laid out on the soil, and his blood filled all the ground, the gunshot ripped through his head. My small children and I shouted a lot, but there wasn’t anyone to help us. All of my husband’s relatives lived in Pakistan, and there wasn’t anyone in Kabul to bury him. My eldest son, who was 14 years old, called our neighbors and they helped us make a grave for him… We couldn't keep his body because there was simply too much blood.


After my husband was killed, our dark life began. My husband’s cousins arrogated our lands. They stole from our home and shops. They took many things. These events made me look for a job, but because I didn’t graduate from school, I couldn't find a good job. I started taking a typing course, and when I passed my typing courses I found a suitable job in one of the governmental ministries. Unfortunately, my income is too little and it is not enough for us. Because of this I make cotton dolls.


When we asked Shaemah about the benefits the Doll Project has had on her life, she said, “In every round of doll’s I sew, I make about 3000 - 4000 afghani, and it helps me to pay for my children’s course fees. My salary from the government is only 2500 afghani per month. I am thankful for this doll’s project. It has improved my life economic.”

Click to view products from the Afghan Dolls Project

Afghan Gal's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Monday, February 15, 2010

Afghan Gal is one of the Afghan Dolls Project widows. She is 41 years old and supports her 5 children, one grandchild and her sister-in-law. She lost her husband 14 years ago, and has a sadness about her.

This is her story:


When I was married, we had very calm and happy life. We lived in Chal Saton District in our own house. My husband had one taxi and he would work from 6:00 in the morning until the evening, near 6:00pm. Because of this our economic situation was good.


But after the coming of the Mujahideen government, Afghanistan’s security wasn’t safe and fighting was in every district of Kabul. One day, when my husband left home for his work, he didn’t come back home that night. We tried a lot to find him but our effort  was negative.


Eventually, after six months, we got his corpse from a collective grave west of Kabul. His hands and legs were tied by wire.


His killers first killed my husband, then they sold his taxi. We hadn’t a person at home to work for us, and my children were small babies. They wanted my milk. My concern for my children’s lives made me to do every kind of work I could.


It is my bad luck that I am illiterate, so I had to find work as a servant of rich people, but my income was too little. I had to borrow money from one of our relatives. With this money I made a one women bakery. After four years I became sick and the doctor ordered me to stop bakery, because from the wood’s smoke I got tuberculosis.


During those times, I made my oldest son go out to sell pens and notebooks in front of schools. I will never forget… one day my son came home and he was crying. He shouted, “I want to study like the other children! I stand near the schools every day, but I can’t go to school.” I told him that you don’t have a father, so you must earn money for supporting life for your younger brothers and sisters.


When we asked Afghan Gal if she is happy with the income she receives from sewing dolls, she said “why not? I am happy, and with dolls income I can pay for my children’s courses fee. Now my oldest son can go to school. I want to be making dolls in every month.”


Click to view products from the Afghan Dolls Project

Josephine's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Josephine is 34 years old. She has 4 children of her own, and also cares for the 4 children her husband has from a prior marriage. 

This is her story: 

I can start by telling you how I escaped to Congo in 1994. I was twenty. We escaped because of the division in Rwanda. People were being killed because of the divisionism. I escaped with my parents and siblings because there was no security.

While we were escaping, we suffered from much hunger. We had no food. We had no water. We only had the one clothes on our bodies and there were lice in the clothes. We were hiding at night and walking during the day. We walked for three days to Congo. We escaped because the Interahamwe told us the country would be attacked by RPF.

During the escape I separated from my parents and arrived in Congo by myself. There was a cloud of people leaving for Congo. There were so many people you could not count them. I watched two children die because they were kicked.

When I arrived in Goma (DRC), there was no water or food, but after one week I received help from friends. There were many many dead bodies. There was deadness. Every night we were weeping. At that time I was living with many people who also escaped to Congo. Some friends brought us mats to cover at night. My parents searched and searched for me. After a week they found me. After they found me, my father died. He died in Congo.

We lived in Congo for two years. At night I would sleep on the ground next to many many people. We lived like this for two weeks. An aid group came and helped us find mice and gave us beans, peas, rice and vegetables. Many groups came. I do not remember all their names. We lived like this for two years.

After two years, the government of
Rwanda sent a bus to take all the exiles back to Rwanda. We refused to go because we were afraid they would kill us. A week later they came back and moved us by force.

We came back to our house. We found our house burned by fire. Many of our things had been taken. We did not find any of our domestic animals. When we got here [Rugendabari] the government tried to help us as exiles and because of the many trips we were very tired. Hence our mother died. At that time we start to cultivate to grow some plants.

While I was in Congo I got married, but my husband died fighting. He was fighting with the Interahamwe, but after the war he joined the Rwanda army. He died fighting in Congo with the Rwanda army. He left me with one child.

After that I got married again. So I am married to a man who was married before. His first wife died of sickness, and he had four children. Together we make a family, but I am not happy. His children despise me. He does not treat me good.

I joined the Zamuka Cooperative a year ago. I make money from selling my baskets. I would like to sell them for a very long time.

Click to view products from the Rwanda Basket Project


Feresita's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Feresita is 44 years old. She is a Hutu, and today she cares for six of her children in Rugendabari.

This is her story:


During the war, I had nine children. I had two children who fell sick and while I was escaping to Congo these two children died. One was 5 years old and the other was 2 years old.


At the beginning I had to hide at the sector office because rouge people wanted to throw me in the river because they thought I was a Tutsi because I was so tall.


I escaped and hid on the roof of my house, but one day I fell from the roof and broke my right leg. I walked to Kabgyi hospital with my husband, but even there the soldiers where killing people. It was very hard. My husband sold any metal we had at the house so we would have money for the hospital, but it was still difficult. I had to leave my children with other family members when we went to the hospital.


I came back from the hospital and my leg was not fixed. My family needed to escape to Congo. While we were escaping, my child fell out of a tree and broke his arm. While we were marching to Congo, we would use sticks to dig sweet potatoes from other peoples’ fields. We did not cook the potatoes. We just ate them raw. We had nothing else to eat.


While trying to escape in April, my two sick children died on the road to Congo. I could not bury them. I did not continue to Congo after this. I took my living children and returned to Rugendabari to try and find a home.


In Rugendabari, my mother and two sisters burned to death when a RPF helicopter shot at the house by accident and the house caught fire. Today the house is the same. We have no money to fix the house, so it looks like it did during the war.


During this time we would hide in the valleys and forests. We traveled with mats for warmth.


After the war, I returned to Kabgyi to fix my leg. They had to cut my leg and they put metal in my leg. I had to sell my field to pay for this. Because of my leg, I can not work in the field.


I joined Zamuka Cooperative one year ago because I had no work because of my leg. I use the money from selling baskets to buy one field, which I have today. 


Feresita was the first to celebrate her first basket sale to Rising. She clapped and danced and was so grateful. She hopes to buy more land so she will be able to leave land for her remaining children.


To view products from the Rwanda Basket Project

Sylverine's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sylverine is 35 years old. Her father was a Hutu, and her mother was a Tutsi. She now lives in Rugendabari, Rwanda with her husband and children.

This is her story:


At the beginning of the war, I was living with my sister, but she died because of illness, and so I moved to stay with my brother.


The Interahamwe were hurting people called Tutsi. At that time, we dug a hole in the ground and put trees over it to hide. We were six persons at that time, but my brother went to Kigali because that is where he had a job. He died in Kigali.


Many times they [the Interahamwe] came. They came with machetes, hammers, hoes. They came during the day and during the night. They were looking for people hiding in the fields and in the bananas. Because of this we had to stay in our hole. We had a very small hole to breathe through.


One day my father sent my sister, who was in her first year of university in Butare, to find food. When she was returning the Interahamwe stopped her. They made her lie on the ground. They told her to tell them the names of everyone who was hiding or they would kill her. At that time a respected man came and pleaded for her life. The Interahamwe let her go.


We lived in our hole for almost three months. Finally the soldiers came to rescue us.


We knew the soldiers had sex with many women, and so I was afraid to marry my husband because of SIDA [AIDS], but after many years I agreed. My husband went to fight in the Congo for two years, and during this time I was alone and it was very bad for me. (Note: originally her husband went to Congo to tell the refugees to return to Rwanda, but when he arrived in Congo he found the first Congo war and stayed to fight.)


During these two years I lived with women whose husbands were also fighting in Congo or Uganda. There were three of us. Two would become widows. First we lived in Gitarama, and then we moved to Butare. We lived with orphans, people hurt during the war and sick people. I taught these children, and I also was a midwife.


After two years my husband came back and found me in Butare. We were married in Nyanza after his first return from Congo. He was later called back to fight in Congo. He left me pregnant. When he returned my son was so old and did not recognize him. He was shot in Congo. Once in the arm and once in the knee. He is now disabled.


I joined the Zamuka Cooperative 15 months ago. When we started this cooperative, people laughed at us, but this cooperative has helped me. It has helped my family. It has been very good for my life.


To view products from the Rwanda Basket Project