Bas Bigum, 60, has found a new lease of life through wool-spinning. After fleeing from Bamyan to escape the increasing conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, she found herself struggling to survive and feed her family of eight children.
"My son was the only family member supporting us. He supported us along with his own family. We were under terrible pressure to survive daily," she said.
It was only after she began working for the Dubai-based initiative Tanweer FBMI as a wool spinner, making locally produced carpets, that she went from barely surviving to being able to support her children's education.
"Although I am an aged woman, I am happy to earn a better living. This job is an entertainment for me as well. I can spin up to 10 or 15 kilograms wool in ten days. I am happy that there is opportunity for me to work in my home," Bigum says.
About 42 per cent of the Afghan population lives on $1 (Dh3.68) a day. With Bigum's new job, she earns $2 to $5 a day depending on her productivity.
Other women working for the organisation with skills are paid a fixed wage. For example, nurses are paid $600 a month and designers $400.
Bigum is just one of many women who have benefited from the initiative.
Tanweer Investments is an investment fund which offers opportunities to developing countries.
In June last year, Tanweer Investments partnered with Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to form the $5-million Tanweer Fatima Bint Mohammad Initiative (FBMI) for the UAE Centre for Carpet Production and Community Development.
The initiative employs Afghan women and trains them in the various processes of making a carpet, such as wool-spinning or weaving. Since its formation, the initiative has created jobs for 3,000 men and women.
The Tanweer FBMI initiative targets the poorest in society through employment at refugee camps as far as the Pakistan border. They have also recently become the first private-sector company in the history of Afghanistan to employ inmates at the Kabul women's prison. So far they have employed 60 women, allowing them to earn and helping them re-integrate into society upon their release from prison.
Jobs for all ages
Jobs cater to the whole age spectrum. According to Maywand Jabarkhyl, director of operations in the UAE and general manager of Tanweer Investments, their youngest employee is a 16-year-old designer and their eldest is a 75-year-old who works as a wool spinner.
"We have been overwhelmed with more and more women who want to enrol in the initiative and we are now facing a backlog in applications.
"This is clear evidence that women in Afghanistan do want to work, the problem is that the international community and local businesses cannot provide this quickly enough," Jabarkhyl said.
Tanweer FBMI produces carpets which are woven using indigenous Afghan wool purchased from Afghan traders. From the raw material to design to production, the end product is 100 per cent Afghan. The end products are sold for Dh1,000 to Dh2,000 per square metre in international markets, including the Middle East and Europe. Their regional showroom in London caters to Europe.
The extra money earned goes back into social commitment and into research and development in terms of improving the quality of Afghan carpets.
Fawzia is a 20-year-old carpet weaver. Before starting her job, her family was living off the wages earned by her brothers in Pakistan.
Clean drinking water was a luxury and had to be collected and carried from a long distance. She first heard about Tanweer FBMI from Aziza, a representative of the organisation, and was attracted by the higher wages that were paid in local Afghan currency.
Having no previous skills in carpet-weaving, she learnt from a neighbour using her loom. Fawzia was eventually given her own loom, which allowed her to work from home.
"Now we can enrol my little brothers and sister in school, and can also enrol them to private tuition centres.
"My brothers who worked in Pakistan as carpet weavers came back to Afghanistan and now we work together, weaving carpets," she said.
She is now looking to save money for her brothers' future and education. "I will spend the money for my brothers' education and if they fail to get enrolled in a government university, I will enrol my brothers in private universities," Fawzia added.
Along with offering women training and employment, Tanweer FBMI also helps them with counselling on health, education and women's affairs.
The initiative encourages working mothers to attend classes that cover literacy, numeracy, health, hygiene, nutrition and human rights.
"The health department educates staff on health issues such as natal care, nutrition and hygiene.
"The education department ensures education is accessible to children of staff, and the women's affairs department offers counselling on human rights issues and social problems," Jabarkhyl said.
The centre's medical team also conducts monthly health check-ups for the employees and their families.
In the field of education, Tanweer FBMI works in conjunction with the Afghan Ministry of Education and several related educational associations to promote educational awareness by supplying children from local communities with stationery and study packs, and working with schools to observe attendance and ensure children's development.
Tanweer FBMI is now looking to expand to other Afghan provinces and regularly receive a constant stream of requests from governors and ministers asking them to build centres in other Afghan provinces.
"Right now, 2,100 women are permanent employees. Everyone is given a chance to develop their capacity and move on to higher paying roles.
"We are looking to increase this to 30,000 women across 15 FBMI centres in Afghanistan," Jabarkhyl said.
In the future Tamweer FBMI is also looking at implementing a designing and dyeing course to achieve future prospective experts in carpet design.
An exhibition of the carpets
For those who are interested in buying the finished products, the carpets will be exhibited at Domotex — the Middle East’s largest flooring exhibition — from September 12 to 14 in Dubai.