Leading the Charge to Empower Women in Afghanistan

I recently had the pleasure to speak with Rangina, a current Kiva borrower and the founder of Kandahar Treasure, an artisan organization established in 2003 and based in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Rangina is a member of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise (www.alllianceforartisanenterprise.org), a Kiva Field Partner which works with artisan groups globally to help them access needed financing and grow their businesses.

Rangina, founder of Kandahar Treasure

Kandahar Treasure provides work to over 400 women in Kandahar province who offer their incredible fine needle-work known as Khamak.  It is a pioneering initiative for the women involved since it’s led and owned by women in the province – an unwelcome concept in Afghanistan. The business is also self-sustaining which is a rare achievement in the country. The women take pride in knowing that they have proven a model of success in the midst of war and destruction in their country. 
Artisan working on Khamak needle-work

Rangina’s loan has enabled Kandahar Treasure to rent a car to transport employees to and from work and to purchase new and enhanced sewing machines. The car minimizes the stress the women experience from harassment on the street when they walk to work or when they have to take public transportation. Some women don’t have any public transport options, so it saves considerable time walking to work (for some, as much as 1.5 hours each way).
The new sewing machines allow the artisans to do better, faster work. As Rangina puts it, “the new sewing machines work better than the old ones which were like something out of the 19th century.” Having new, modern machines gives these women a sense of pride and empowerment. Their handiwork is enhanced through better technology without losing the unique and delicate features that makes Khamak so special.
Example of Khamak design

I asked Rangina what she’d like people to know about the work of Afghanistan’s artisans and what her hopes are for the future of Kandahar Treasure. She says, “Kandahar Treasure is an example of how creating artwork can financially benefit artisans and their communities.  Afghanistan, my country, remains a country that faces many challenges on all fronts of life. Kandahar Treasure is a relatively small initiative trying to change the way Afghans think, work and benefit from their place in a changing world. We have three hopes and we think they are simple and attainable:  

1. Peace and stability (political and physical) in our country so that we all can live in peace and plan and strategize for a future that seems out of reach for many of us on the ground because of world politics. 

2. Find enough market opportunities for our products so that we remain self-sustaining…we want to be pioneers in advocating to the world marketplace that buying hand-made is not only good for them but that it helps the world!

3. We want to be able to expand our operations throughout Afghanistan, creating regional chapters of our work, and one day creating Afghan Treasures that will encompass all of the treasures that women in Afghanistan create by hand.

We look forward to the world hearing our voice and helping us achieve our hopes!”

About the author

Erin Tochen

Erin grew up in California and now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and 6-year old boxer/lab mix. For the past 10 years she has worked for The Lemelson Foundation, including four years in grants management and, most recently, six years as a Program Officer. Lemelson is a private family foundation that supports the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises in order to promote US economic growth and improve lives in developing countries. In her role as Program Officer, Erin managed partnerships focused on developing low-cost technologies that solve global problems and built a portfolio of national and international grants to support the education of young inventors. She has deeply valued working with passionate innovators and social entrepreneurs who are improving the quality of life globally, and looks forward to continuing to work with those who are solving the world’s hardest problems. Erin previously worked in marketing communications and earned an MS in Management Communication from University of Portland and a BA in English from Santa Clara University. She is thrilled to be working as a Kiva Fellow for the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise in Washington, DC and with their partners around the world.