Arzu — which means “hope” in Dari — helps provide Afghan widows with sustainable income by sourcing and selling their handmade carpets. Arzu’s goal is to create opportunities for economic self-reliance, education, and health care for Afghan women and their families through a sustainable carpet project with long-term access to US markets. Arzu believes that the empowerment of women is critical to the world’s future prosperity and possibilities for peace — and has engaged in several different strategies to accomplish that goal.
Arzu’s programs target women in rural Afghanistan. For rural, poor, illiterate Afghan women, the centuries old tradition of weaving is often their only hope of generating income in a culturally acceptable way. In Arzu’s target communities, carpets are virtually the sole source of income for women, and low wages make it virtually impossible for carpet weavers to break the cycle of poverty. Arzu pays women weavers 50% more than the market rate for their labor. In addition, upon completion of their carpets, the widows receive a cash bonus in exchange for a commitment to attend literacy classes and to send their children to school.
Many women have weaving skills but no looms or quality wool. Arzu delivers both, cultivating a market for the beautiful rugs in the United States and beyond, and in addition to a generous wage that could be earned from home, provides desperately needed health care and education opportunities for rug weavers and their families.
Dragon Valley Community Center
Few places in the world are less hospitable to women than Dragon Valley. With a climate dominated by a frigid winter and no central heat, plumbing, or electricity in homes, women rarely if ever manage a reprieve from grueling household chores and childrearing. Work for income is rarely an option. A life expectancy of 46 is far too easy to imagine for women in this village cradled by the northern mountains of Afghanistan.
Now Arzu has increased work opportunities and addressed quality-of-life issues for local women through construction of the Dragon Valley Community Center, Arzu’s most ambitious project to date. Beyond the 11th was instrumental in funding this initiative.
Dragon Valley Women’s Community Center provides many desperately needed services as well as quality-of-life improvements, including:
Any one of the above resources would better the lives of women, but combined, the center is truly life changing for the women who become a part of the community. Rug weavers, many of them widows, now have access to a warm, safe facility where they can take classes, do laundry, bathe, use a flush toilet, collaborate with other weavers in a bright, spacious loom room, or just sit for a moment in a chair and sip a hot cup of tea. For the women of Dragon Valley, these are unimaginable luxuries. The Community Center gives women who are among the poorest in the world a sense of value and helps them to improve their weaving skills or train for additional life-changing job opportunities.
Scholarships, Bonus Payments, and Other Support
Through Arzu, in 2009, Beyond the 11th directly supported one new college scholarship for the daughter of an Afghan widow; bonus payments for 51 widowed weavers and their families; and partially covered the expenses for new ARZU-led education classes.