Bringing Microfinance Home

November 12, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Nasrin in her small bakery, resting after a long day of baking bread and pastries. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Nasrin's home is only one of thousands of square clay and concrete residences in Shkadara District that dot the hills above of northern Kabul. But inside her austere house, one room stands out. Inside this 15-by-15-foot space, Nasrin is helping her family thrive by baking dozens of flatbreads each day.

"Sometimes the fire is so powerful," she says, showing off her hands, blackened and toughened by years of reaching into her below ground oven, "it burns the hair off my arms and face."

The heat doesn't bother Nasrin though, especially when it helps support her four children. She knows the fires that cook the 100 or more pieces of naan and bolani each day wouldn't burn without Mercy Corps' help.

Her small bakery exists thanks to small loans from Ariana Financial Group, the microfinance institution that Mercy Corps helped establish in 2003. In the years since, Ariana has helped over 80,000 impoverished Afghans establish or expand a small business.

With this cash in hand, the 45-year-old mother of four is able to buy flour and wooden spatulas and help cover the cost of replacing her oven once a year.

Nasrin is on her fourth loan with Ariana. With each one, both her business and her home life have improved. Today she's able to ship more of her breads to be sold at a nearby bazaar. And the profits paid for a cow and for her eldest son's wedding.

She's also planning on expanding her business by setting up a second oven, which will allow her daughter to help with the baking as well.

And she is telling everyone in her neighborhood about Ariana, including her neighbors — three women taking advantage of the pleasant weather to prepare a new purple and gold comforter, known in Afghanistan as a le haf, for sale at the bazaar.

"For this one, we can usually get around 2,000 or 2,500 Afghanis [about USD$50]," says 40-year-old Khanmgol, methodically adding new threads to the design alongside her friends Shah and Maida.

All three have received loans from Ariana to purchase thread and fabric for these comforters — traditionally given as wedding gifts — and are splitting the profits. The added benefit is that the work goes much faster and is, in Khanmgol's words, "much less boring because we have someone to talk to while we work."