Afghanistan: Gulshah learning new trade to be mother, father, breadwinner

Afghanistan: Learning new trade to be mother, father, breadwinner

A 12 sq m room in Ghazni city, Afghanistan, is a world of milestones for 51-year-old Gulshah.
Article 27 April 2021 Afghanistan

Here, she sees how her family learnt to survive in an unfamiliar environment, her nine children growing aspirations for their future, her small tailoring business that is bringing stability to their upturned lives and her chance to contribute to the community by passing on her skill and hope to other women in the neighbourhood.

Seven years ago, Gulshah's life had worn a desolate look. She and her husband, who were farmers, could find no work as their village in Malistan district suffered the effects of a prolonged drought.

"Landowners stopped hiring us and we ran out of ways to provide for our family. We decided to move to Ghazni city in the hope of making ends meet. But our life in the city was also full of challenges. My husband left home one morning looking for work and never came back. I tried searching for him but there were no leads. Eventually, I had to fend for my three daughters and six sons alone," says Gulshah.

Gulshah dressed in a traditional outfit few days later after her wedding.

 

Gulshah has set up her work station in her small living room.
Gulshah has set up her work station in her small living room.

She started working in people's homes to pay her house rent and take care of her children. In 2018, a neighbour told her about the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offering a vocational course as part of their economic security programme to help those in need. Along with 12 other widow women, Gulshah was enrolled in a six-month tailoring course.

While the women learnt a new trade, the ICRC also gave them food supplies like rice, beans, oil, tea and salt to support them during the course. At the end of the programme, the trainees were given a sewing machine, a pair of scissors, fabric for practice, iron and gas balloon to set up their own small businesses.

"I thought I was too old to learn a new skill, but with hard work and a will to give my children a better life I could do it. I am not only a mother; I am a father and a breadwinner, and I am proud of being a tailor," she says.

Her eldest son Elyas, who is preparing to write an entrance exam to get into a university, echoes the sentiment. "Because of her, I have been able to continue studying and even dream of becoming a doctor. I am happy she learnt tailoring," he says.

Gulshah passes on her stitching skills and hope to her student Shahnaz.
Gulshah passes on her stitching skills and hope to her student Shahnaz.

I thought I was too old to learn a new skill, but with hard work and a will to give my children a better life I could do it

Gulshah's journey has also been inspiring other women in her neighbourhood. Shahnaz, who is training under Gulshah, shares that most people in their area have come from other parts of the region to escape the combined effects of drought, conflict and poverty. "We all have hard lives and have been struggling to make ends meet. But Gulshah inspires me to believe that I can also learn a new skill and become a breadwinner for my children," she says.

Looking to the future, Gulshah hopes to set up her own shop and widen her client base. "I want to keep working hard to give my children the education and life that I was deprived of in our village," she says. Like her, the ICRC has trained 30 women in Ghazni over the last couple of years and helped 787 households across the country to set up small businesses and sustain themselves through the EcoSec programme.