Well worth the effort

Afghanistan, July 28, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

For most of us, putting a meal on the table involves a trip to the store to purchase food and some time in the kitchen to prepare it.

For women who live in the countries where Mercy Corps works, mealtime requires a much greater effort. Women prepare the ground, grow the crops and harvest them. Women thresh the grain. Women hand-carry water and fuel for the fire. Women milk the cows and make the cheese. Women like Zahria shell almonds one at a time and sell them in the bazaar.

Zahria, a 35-year-old mother of five, took out a loan from Afghanistan’s Mercy Corps-supported Ariana Financial Services to begin an almond-selling business. She used the loan to buy bags of raw, unshelled almonds. She and her eldest daughter, Mursal, then use a hammer to crack the shells open, packing the meaty, teardrop-shaped insides into two-pound bags to be sold at a local bazaar.

Since 2003, Ariana Financial Services has supported more than 45,000 clients with $11.3 million in loans. Ariana currently has 11,001 active clients, 72 percent of whom are women just like Zahria and Mursal who have started or expanded micro-enterprises in all areas of Afghan life. These women are weavers, seamstresses, hairdressers, knitters and herders.

And they are providing food, shelter and other necessities for their families — a reality that was nearly impossible during the dark days of Taliban rule.

"I had to rely on my husband for everything," Zahria said, hunched over a small piece of slate used to break open the almond shells, not looking up from her work. "Now, I’m able to buy clothes for myself and my children and household expenses without having to go to him for money.”

It's a lot of work for two young women, but their efforts are worth the time they are putting into it.