A year ago, I thought I would never get back to the country that has grown to mean so much to me. So, when our partner in Kabul said he felt it was safe to return, I was over the moon. On October 30th, the first of the 60 women on our project Zindagi Now ("A new life") were graduating, and he invited me to come for the celebration. The women had spent 6 months learning jewellery-making skills: cutting, filing, polishing, setting, and stone cutting and, for those who wished, courses in business skills, English, and literacy.
All the clients of Pippa Small who have supported this project by buying the 18kt Gold Vermeil Afghanistan Aquamarine Double Pendant with Gold Bead on Cord, have enabled transport, a hot meal, a stipend, materials, teachers, and security for 60 women. Our wholesale partner, Twist, based in Portland, generously sponsored the rent of the workshops in central Kabul for a year.
I confess to a few sleepless nights before departure, worrying about the safety of Art, my talented filmmaking nephew who shot this film, and myself. But I trusted our partner and knew all would be well. Departing Dubai at 3 am, I was filled with excitement and trepidation as I watched the sun rise over the beautiful folds of the wild mountains of western Afghanistan. When we landed, I was reassured to recognise some faces of the airport staff.
As Art and I waited for our lift at the airport, which had broken down en route, we chatted with the groups of men waiting around the airport gate. They were surprised but delighted to see two foreigners and were curious about why we had come. When discussing the recent changes, one man's eyes filled with tears when he explained that the violence was not over as ISIS was increasingly active in the country carrying out attacks.
I can't express the joy of seeing our partner and the team we have been working with since 2008. The warmth and joy with which our surprise arrival at the carefully planned graduation ceremony was overwhelming. I don't think a smile left my face for the whole day. Listening to the impassioned speeches from the girls and women, teachers and family members, their joy at learning, creating, and being together in a safe place was palpable. A flurry of colourful, beautifully hand-embroidered shawls, mirrored dresses catching the morning sun, smiling faces filled with joy and excitement, and flashes of jewellery proudly worn by the newly formed jewellery makers was like a dream.
The following day we spent chatting with all the girls and women, hearing their stories, hopes, and dreams. A day of laughter, teasing, and pride but also one of tears and heartache as some women shared their struggles. Overall, they showed an overwhelming humbling determination to continue, learn more, and join our production team.
The women are from different backgrounds, from 16-year-olds who are unable to return to school to 45-year-olds, including professional women, lawyers, and teachers who can no longer easily work. There were inspiring activists and other women who were illiterate and had no formal education. There were Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, and Uzbek, and the women are from all over the country. They all loved this life-saving course and were inspired by each other's experiences, and bonds for life had been formed. They all wanted to continue being active and learning.
It was an awe-inspiring, humbling day. One girl announced her dream was to one day be President of Afghanistan to the applause and cheers of her friends. There is still hope and faith that things will get better. When discussing their dreams and ambitions, our partner teased them at one point, saying "you can say you want to get married, you know!" Everyone laughed and chorused no!
We aim to keep this training course going, bring more women into the realm of learning to respond to the huge demand and help address an urgent need for vital income and creative outlets. The women can work in the all-female workshop or at home if necessary.
Afghanistan is an astoundingly beautiful country with people like nowhere else. Brave, resilient, and proud. Thank you for supporting this project through the sale of this special necklace.