Shamsia: Profile of a Borrower

Afghanistan, January 3, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Shirine Pont for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Students at Shamsia's school learn how to sew and gain some financial independence. Shamsia is a beneficiary of Mercy Corps' Microfinance Organization Ariana program. Photo: Shirine Pont/Mercy Corps Photo: Shirine Pont for Mercy Corps

My name is Shamsia. I am 31 years old and am from Kabul. I run a school for women where they learn how to sew, embroider, make jewelry, produce ‘chapans' (a traditional Afghan costume) and weave.

I have had my school for 6 years now. I already started giving courses during the Taliban. I had to work in secret then, in people's houses, as the Taliban had forbidden women to work or to go to school. It was dangerous, but I wanted to help Afghan women. Women here are very poor; they often have no education and no livelihood. Some of them have to stay at home and can not go out. I have founded my own NGO called ‘Help Poor Women Organization' HPWO to support Afghan women.

I am a client of Mercy Corps' Microfinance Organization Ariana. I have already received two loans from Ariana. The loans have helped me buy materials for my school, like more stones for making jewelry and cloth for the sewing classes. I have also been able to increase the number of students I have from 17 to 32.

I am so happy about receiving support from Ariana that I have told many people about this and I think I must have won at least 200 new clients for Ariana. Many of my students have formed a group to apply for a loan in order to start their own businesses.

My school finances itself by selling the products my students have made; we have a room at the school in which we present all our products. Sometimes, men come and buy our products to sell them on the market. When we can, we take part in exhibitions in Kabul to show and sell our products. Our jewelry is very pretty and I sell it to people who export it abroad.

Our products are not very expensive. Everything is handmade, and an embroidered scarf costs 6 USD and an embroidered shirt only 20 USD. Our jewelry sells for 10 to 30 USD, depending on what stones we used.

We have two classes every day, one from 8 - 12 and one from 12 to 16.30. The women who are learning to embroider don't come to school as often as they can do their work at home. My students don't have to pay for coming to my school, on the contrary - I give them 300 Afghani (about 5 USD) per month bus money so they can afford coming to school. Some students stay on after their graduation and become teachers at the school, then I pay them a salary.

My brothers say I should stay at home and get married. Afghan women can have a lot of problems with their families if they want to study and work! I have had to fight hard to continue school after 6th grade. My brothers wanted me to stop studying, but I fought and talked until they gave in and let me finish high school. My brother's wife was a tailor, and she taught me how to sew. I could not have a shop (women here cannot stand in a shop and sell) and so I had the idea to start a school and help other women.

Right now, I only work in Kabul but I dream of expanding my school and helping women in all of Afghanistan. But it is not easy, just today my landlord called me that he wants to raise the rent for the schoolhouse from 300 USD to 500 USD per month. Rents in Kabul have gone down, but he just wants more money, and I cannot afford this. I do not know what I will do next about this.

I send my greetings to the people of America. I hope they will continue to support us.