International Day of the Girl

Saturday, October 11th is the International Day of the Girl.  The purpose of the day is to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.  This year’s Day will focus on “Innovating for Girls’ Education”.

The official UN website states:  “The fulfilment of girls’ right to education is first and foremost an obligation and moral imperative. There is also overwhelming evidence that girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is a powerful transformative force for societies and girls themselves. While there has been significant progress in improving girls’ access to education over the last two decades, many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of this basic right. Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education due to safety-related, financial, institutional and cultural barriers.”

The Eternal Threads vision began helping women have income to provide for more nutritious food, access to healthcare and education for their children.  In my experience working with women living in extreme poverty, one of their highest priorities is having income to educate their children…especially their daughters.  Most of them never had the opportunity to go to school and they know it is vital to their children’s future.

When our first project in south India was providing enough profit for us to return those benefits to the communities in which we were working, we knew the most important thing we could do would be to provide education for girls.  The photo below is of the first group of girls that were given school scholarships.Image

Since that time girl’s education and welfare has been a central part of the Eternal Threads mission whether it is directly through scholarships, building a school in Afghanistan, or through the livelihood incomes provided to their mothers which enables them to provide education and safety for their daughters.

Rosemary, our partner in Uganda, uses most of her income from the sale of her baskets to pay the school fees and buy school uniforms for her four younger siblings.  She is putting off her own education until she can give them the start in life they need.  If we can’t sell enough of her baskets to cover the fees, Eternal Threads provides a portion of those school fees.

Here are just some of the girls whose lives have been touched by Eternal Threads.  Join us in celebrating these girls.Image 9 - Version 2Image 45IMG_1437_1IMG_9666IMG_9648

The Last Point

I sometimes receive emails from our Afghan partner that stun me in their reality and for a few minutes, I am able to block out the “nothingness” that is all around us and live in the moment of what truly matters.

For over four years our partner has very capably overseen the tailoring and now beautician training courses that we fund for women who desperately need a skill to provide income for their families in the safety of their homes.

International Literacy Day was September 8th.  That same week we began literacy courses and self-help empowerment courses for the women in our training courses.  They want to learn to read since most of them never had the opportunity to attend school.  Our partner recently finished a three-week training course himself to be able to also train these women in organizing Self-Help Groups.  This is a fantastic program that not only teaches them how to start their own businesses, but also gives training in forming self-help groups where they contribute their own money to a fund that will provide low interest loans to its members.  This program was developed by the International Labor Organization and is one of the most valuable tools for helping women who live in extreme poverty and oppression.

A few days ago, I received word from some dear friends that a young Afghan man they had worked with on development projects was murdered to prevent any further progress of this kind for the Afghan people.  I expressed concern to our partner for his and his family’s safety and questioned whether or not we should continue. I received this in reply…

Don’t worry Ms. Linda. We will not die this soon because we have targets and goals in our life. We are building the minds of children and women and giving them hope to continue living.  In this case, we have decided to continue to the last point…”

Everyone is fearful for 2014 and what will happen when international forces leave Afghanistan.  My fear is that the Afghan people will be forgotten once again.  The potential for the increased oppression and brutality toward women and girls is very real and beyond the scope of most of our imaginations.

A report in TOLOnews.com on 9/11/13 states that 95 percent of suicides in Afghanistan are committed by women. More than 2,500 Afghan women have taken their own lives in the past year alone. Countrywide investigations show that the vast majority of suicide cases in Afghanistan were amongst woman and young girls experiencing physical abuse. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Afghan women experience some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. According to UNAMA’s mid-year report, cases of violence against women were higher in 2013 than in 2012. In addition to violence, Public Health officials cited forced marriage, often between pre-adolescent girls and adult men, as well as widespread illiteracy as the main adversities facing female Afghans that contribute to the startling rates of suicide. 

This news is very discouraging, and it would be easy to say it’s not worth it, but if those who risk the most for their people are not willing to give up then my momentary feelings of discouragement don’t measure up.

Bless all of you who have supported these training courses with your donations to Eternal Threads for sewing machines, lunch for the women and trainers’ salaries.  I assure you it does not go unnoticed and it will never be forgotten.  It will continue to be a light in the shadows, and even a small amount of light illumes the darkness. DSC00175

After I visited the training courses on my last visit, I learned from our partner that the women could not believe that I would travel so far to see them and that we would care enough to give them these opportunities.  Caring enough isn’t really that difficult nor does it cost us that much, but it changes lives in ways that we really can’t comprehend.  I think it is easy for us to forget that there is a “last point” and I’m thankful for our partner’s reminder.  He is the father of three sons so his sacrifice or risk is certainly no less and a lot more than ours.  He was a translator for our military for two years and still honors the men and women that he saw sacrificing so much for his people and his country.  It is what inspired him.

To make a difference in the lives of these women in Afghanistan, please visit our Life Changing Gifts page.

Kathmandu

Even though we flew completely different routes, amazingly we all arrived within a few minutes of each other at the Kathmandu airport on Friday morning.  Unfortunately some of the luggage for Abby’s extended stay here in Nepal didn’t make it, but they will be here on the 2nd.  

After a quick rest, shower and some lunch we went to visit the new offices of KI Nepal which up until now had been in Ramesh’s home.  Ramesh had invited a young woman to join us that he wanted me to meet.  Her name is Rashmi.  A beautiful young women with amazing blue eyes who has been deaf since birth.  Her husband signed and translated for us.  She is a very accomplished artist naturally and is now studying at Kathmandu University.  She draws all of the anti-trafficking posters that KI Nepal distributes to police stations, bus and train stations, schools, etc.  She wants to use her art to help with the anti-trafficking work that KI Nepal does.  I wish she could meet our great friend, Ruth Jackson, who never stops thinking about the ways in which she can use her art for good.

Rashmi, along with her paintings, has started doing painting on canvas shoes.  We all thought they were fantastic and think there is a potential for selling them….especially to benefit the Red Thread Movement.  She wants to train the girls in the safe house to do the painting which will give them an income, but will also give them a way to express themselves.  They often can’t articulate what they have gone through in either the spoken or written word, but can express their feelings in art.Image

Image

 

After leaving the offices we visited Ramesh and his family at their home which is where the sewing center activities take place as well.  We were able to meet some of the girls doing the sewing and see the new cutting machine that they have available to them.  It was great to meet Rosni who is now completely in charge of all the shipments that we receive of bracelets and other goods.  Before returning to the hotel, Ramesh’s wife, Samnajha, prepared the most wonderful Nepali meal for us all to share.

ImageImageImageImage

Team Visit to Nepal

An Eternal Threads team departed on Wednesday, August 28th for a visit to Nepal.  The team includes Eternal Threads’ founder, Linda Egle, board member, Diane Rose, and two staff members, Breahna Jordan and Abby Youngblood.  Breahna is the director of the Red Thread Movement and Abby will be remaining in Nepal to live in the safe house for nine months.  We are so excited that she will be able to serve this ministry in such a powerful way…spending time with the girls and helping our partner with so many tasks.

UPDATE: With a little more drama than we would have liked at the DFW airport today, we are all on our way to Nepal.  We are going different routes, but will meet up in Frankfurt for the last legs to Delhi, India and Kathmandu.  Don’t you love that name – Kat-Man-Du!!!!  I always get a kick out of saying it.

I’m very anxious to see our partner, Ramesh, the KI Nepal staff and especially the rescued girls in the safe houses.  It is always the greatest blessing and the reward for traveling half way round the world to be able to be with them.  They are the reason for it all and they are worth it!!!  Their courage, resiliency and their willingness to build a new life is inspirational in ways that are hard to describe.  They have come from remote mountain villages where they may have never had an opportunity to go to school, where they helped with household chores from the time they were little girls that most women never have to do…collecting wood and feed for animals, building open fires for cooking, and carrying water home from the stream.  Their families are desperately poor and they may have even suffered abuse in their own homes, which made them especially vulnerable to traffickers.  As most Nepalese people are, they are sweet and humble even after being deceived and abused by the traffickers.

It is the love and compassion they receive from the young women “manning” the border stations who rescue them, the house mothers and other rescued girls in the safe houses that gives them the confidence that they can rebuild their lives.  Receiving vocational training in sewing or beautician training gives them the practical skills needed for that life.  Every time you give a “gift” of a sewing machine to someone from our website, you are empowering these girls.

I’ve never been on the border at exactly the right time to witness a rescue first hand, but I love to hear the dramatic stories of their rescue.  This news report appeared in a Nepal newspaper of one such rescue.  Usha Gurung who did the rescue is the most senior staff member of KI Nepal.  These girls are amazing…knowledgeable and courageous.  They are not willing to let anyone slip through their grasp.  I can’t wait to tell Usha…”good for you and thank you.”

BHAIRAHAWA – A teenage girl from Tanahu district, who was being trafficked to India by three men, was rescued from Belahiya border in Rupandehi district on Wednesday evening. Officials of KI Nepal, an organization working against human trafficking, rescued 17-year-old Sima Thapa as a group of traffickers were trying to take her across the border. The three men fled leaving behind Thapa when they were stopped at a check post. Thapa, a native of Arunodaya VDC-3 in Tanahu, was drugged by the three men she had met in a passenger bus headed for Bhimad Bazaar.  “When I woke up I was in Belahiya. They threatened to kill me if I did not do what they told me. I relented and walked along with them,” said Thapa. While two of the traffickers walked ahead to cross the border, Thapa was instructed to walk along with the third man and identify him as her uncle if inquired. Usha Gurung, in-charge of KI Nepal Belahiya check post, said Thapa’s nervous expression suggested something was suspicious about her being there with a man. “When we stopped them for questioning, she first said that the man was her uncle. Not convinced, we pressed her to tell the truth when the man ran away. She later told us what had happened to her,” said Gurung. Police Inspector Mohan Bahadur Khand of the Belahiya Area Police Office said Thapa was handed over to her parents on Thursday.

Stay tuned…hopefully we’ll be blogging several times during the visit.

Journey West

On Sunday, April 14th, our Afghan partner and I traveled to the western city where our projects are located.  It was nice to have a companion for the journey.  Going to this city is like entering another world in Afghanistan.  It is much different than Kabul.  Thankfully, it has not been damaged as much over the decades of war so there are avenues lined with huge pine trees.  The entire city has mature trees (something you don’t see in Kabul) and parks with loads of trees and flowers.  It seems to be a more “normal” city rather than a war zone…people going about their daily lives…shopping, taking children to school, visiting neighbors.  All in all I prefer it to Kabul except for the fact that as a woman I am less free.  I never saw a single woman who didn’t have a burqa or chador. I’m able to wear a long coat and head scarf but we had to be cautious not to attract unwarranted attention.

Image

Our first project visit on Monday was to an area just outside the city to visit the tailoring course.  My partner brought his family with us to help with the “attention” factor.  This is the second course we have done for women in this area and will begin a third at the beginning of next month. Even though our partner had taken some wonderful photos and videos before it was such a pleasure to visit the young women for myself.  There are 10 in each class ranging in age from 18 to 30…most of them being around the age of 20. Because this is such a poor area none of them have ever had the opportunity to go to school so having the opportunity to learn this skill is a huge benefit to they and their families.  We passed out graduation certificates to everyone and our partner will present them with the supplies they need to start their business when they finish at the end of the month.  These supplies are purchased for only $120.  Anyone interested can give this amount for one of these young women on our website in Life Changing Gifts.

Image

I was also able to meet one of the young women (17 years old) from our first class who now has a business in her home and the 26 year old woman from our remote village whose story was in my last blog.  I had several questions for them which is such a new experience because never in their lives has someone asked them their opinion about anything.  They would not take their chadors off or even let me fully see their faces.

Image

We talked to the young woman about her business and what might help her be more successful.  We concluded that we could help the women get more customers in their neighborhood if they had pieces of fabric that their customers could choose from rather than having to travel into the city to buy it. Our partner is going to try and find a wholesaler that would give us a good price for bulk purchases of fabric.  The women are given their sewing machine and set-up supplies when they finish the course, but they would have to repay the loan for the fabric as they are able to make it into clothing for their customers.

Image

After visiting the tailoring course I had the pleasure of taking my partner and his family to lunch at an Afghan restaurant which is something that they as a family had never done before.  It was a treat for all of us to be able to spend time together.  Our partner’s three sons are ages 12, 7 and 4. (photo below)  His oldest son is a very intelligent boy and LOVES to go to school.  Unfortunately, because they had to move several times he is only in the 3rd class instead of the 6th as he should be.  The government school that he goes to will not let him take exams to advance to the grade that he should be in for his age.  I discovered that the solution to this was that he attend a private school.  I didn’t have the expense of educating children of my own so this was an easy decision for me.  I gave the funds to our partner when I left yesterday so that he can attend the private school.  I can tell that this young man will do well with every opportunity he is given.

Image

After lunch we visited the jewelry project that we have been supporting since a good friend of mine began the project when she lived in this city for a year and a half.  She taught the women to make the beautiful jewelry that we now sell on our website and the young Afghan woman you see in the photo below has carried on the project to employ the women.  I collected some of the Pearls of Perseverance bracelets that were finished and we worked on some new designs as well.

ImageImage

The remainder of our time was spend sourcing raw materials…a very fine cashmere comes from this part of Afghanistan.  I’m hoping we can employ some women make some beautiful infinity scarves and gloves that you will love.

cashmere

Kabul Spring

It’s early spring in Kabul.  All of the fruit trees are in bloom and the new trees that have been planted by the mayor of Kabul are covered in the bright green leaves that only spring provides.  It’s hard to find evidence of hope springing up in a country and a city that has been crushed by war for decades, but nature seems to give it’s signs of renewal no matter what else is happening.

Friday was spent catching up with ET’s partner and visiting a Tajik refugee woman and her two daughters.  She has been making the wonderful organza jewelry bags that you’ve received if you’ve ever bought some jewelry from Eternal Threads.  Since I knew I would be seeing her and could carry the bags home in my luggage I gave her a fairly large order for this trip.  This photo with her two daughters was taken in the garden of the home where they live in front of the fruit tree in bloom.

Image

Today was a very successful day for us.  Our partner and I were able to find the offices of Operation Mercy. a Swedish Organization that specializes in Self Help Groups for women.  I met with the Afghanistan National Coordinator, Khalida Hafizi (photo below).  She was very helpful in giving us the information needed for us to do this program for the women in our projects.  I first saw the Self Help Groups in Afghanistan when I was here in 2007 and have since seen the concept in south India and Nepal.  It is a fantastic approach to helping women.  I am still impressed by the micro-lending concept started by Mohammed Yunus in Bangladesh, but I’m even more in favor of the self-help concept.  Women form groups in their own communities, elect officers and a board and begin saving their own money which they will eventually loan to each other.  From what I have witnessed this approach is even more empowering to people than receiving a loan because they learn how to do it themselves with their own resources.  The groups are also given literacy training and education in human rights issues.  In countries like Afghanistan where women are so isolated even from each other, these groups are of great benefit to them socially and economically.  Our partner is anxious to learn how to start these groups in our area.  Facilitators will be chosen from the women’s groups themselves and they will travel to Kabul for a one week training course hopefully by summer.

Image

I did have a couple of spare hours in the afternoon to go to Chicken Street to do some shopping.  You’ll be seeing some of the items on the Eternal Threads website eventually (photo below).

Everyone from the guest house had dinner at a wonderful Lebanese restaurant where I was able to visit more with the wife of a couple that are staying with us, but I  hadn’t had a chance to talk to.  They are English and she is a doctor.  They are also working with Operation Mercy in that little strip of Afghanistan that borders Tajikistan, China and India.  It’s one of the most remote places on earth.  They live at 10,000 feet in the winter!!!  She told me how cold it gets there and what the temperature is inside their house, but I think I blocked it out of my mind.  Incredible commitment.

Here are a few photos of our friends and helpers in Kabul who make all of this possible for us and some scenes from our day.  On to western Afghanistan tomorrow to visit our projects.

Akbar & Maboob

Akbar, Maboob and Linda

Yar and Akbar

Afghan Cheese Shop

Afghan Cheese Shop

Lunch - the most famous Afghan dish of lamb, rice, raisins and carrots.

Lunch – the most famous Afghan dish of lamb, rice, raisins and carrots.

Shopping on Chicken Street

Shopping on Chicken Street

Return to Afghanistan

As I begin to write this I am in the hotel in Dubai where I spent the night on the way to Kabul.  My traveling companions and friends from the Lamia Foundation based in Nashville, TN joined me at the hotel late last night. The flight to Kabul leaves at noon today (Thursday, April 11th). I’m very anxious to see our Eternal Threads partner since I was unable to go this last year. We have a lot to catch up on and it’s a blessing to be able to meet face to face. Emails and cell phone conversations are great and we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do without the advances in technology over the years, but nothing is as good as being together to share and encourage one another. It’s easy enough for me to get discouraged in the U.S. with the work we are doing and always hoping and praying that we will have the funding to fulfill our commitments we’ve made to help the women, but I know how much more it takes to stay upbeat and hopeful when you are working in the field against almost insurmountable odds.  They are the profiles in courage!

There are those who weigh in on what we do and analyze the projected results by the standards of …”is it enough?”…”are you really helping?”…”what good can it do to help a few when the problems are so immense?” Even though we constantly do evaluate what we are doing and try and answer all of these questions for ourselves, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that some analysis is best left to others.  You can’t really do this unless you believe that HOPE is what you are giving along with the skills and income for products made and it is that hope that is the intangible result of what we do. It is hope that inspires others to do great things in the world around them. I see it over and over again and it inspires me.

When our partner in Afghanistan wanted to start another tailoring course in the village where we work, I asked him to send me an email with his thoughts about the reasoning for it. Below is his response which for me was affirmation of all that we are trying to do and quite frankly what our military, NGO’s, government agencies and any one involved is hoping for….inspiring others that their lives can be better.  Here is what our partner wrote:

“When we first started our work the village leader and most of the men would not let our village women participate in our community programs because they always traditionally keep the women far from public skills and education. It was a shame for them if a woman would go out and learn something, even next door or in a neighbor’s house.

But with the affection of our community programs for the village women and the benefits and income they make from Eternal Threads programs it totally changed the mindset of the men in our village. So now, even men and village elders are asking us for more programs for women.

We have carpet-weaving, embroidery and education programs, which are very beneficial for the village people. So now they are asking for tailoring skills programs for the village women. If they have women tailors in their own village then it will help 10 women financially to buy food and other things they need for the winter season.”

After starting the course he sent me the story below in the words of one of the women trainees. (We have since sent money for her to buy food for her family so that she can remain in the course and not be forced to make other choices.)

Story of one of Eternal Threads’ tailoring program trainee

“I am a 26 years old widow. My husband died 3 years ago when he fell off a building working in Iran.  I have 5 children, 4 girls and 1 boy. I was asked many times to remarry different people in our village. Even the village boss is asking me to marry him, but he has 3 more wives and I don’t want to marry him or anybody else.

My husband’s brother is taking care of my family, and also I wash clothes and do other work in the village to pay for food to eat. The village boss and my husband’s brother are trying to force me to marry the village boss because my husband’s brother works for him. He says if I don’t marry the village boss he will lose his job and he will not take care of us anymore.

Fortunately, the Eternal Threads program came in like a “saving angel” who lifted my hopes and made me hopeful to live again.  So, I decided to participate in these classes to learn tailoring skills because I want to show them that a woman can also work and take care of my children. If I marry the village boss, he will sell my daughters and get all that money for himself. I don’t want to do that. I want to participate In Eternal Threads Tailoring Program and be a tailor, making money and taking care of my children and not be dependent on them. I am really trying to learn the tailoring to show even the other women in the village that women are not slaves or servants. Women also can do what a man can do.

I started resisting against them. I hope and wish that I am not ashamed In front of my village men and women, because I am the first woman standing against the village boss and their wrong believes. Please stay being my supporters.”

Someone asked me in an email just before I left the U.S. why I work with women in other countries and why I don’t care about women in the U.S.?  I care very much and I can’t necessarily explain why some of us are called to do what we do. I applaud the magnificent efforts of those that are working on projects for U.S. women…especially my friend Joyce Dalzell who founded Faith Works in Abilene, Texas. I think that no matter what our circumstances are we can all be inspired by those who overcome odds to change their lives for the better. I think American women (and men) of all circumstances can stand with women anywhere in the world and we will be better for it.

On Sunday I will travel to the area where our tailoring courses are. I can’t go to the village because it would put our partner in danger to be seen by “some” as working with a foreigner, but I will be able to visit the tailoring course in the city and the jewelry project that we support. I have graduation certificates to give to the women just finishing the course. They actually finished at the end of the month but are continuing a few more days for my visit. This will be the first time I have been able to visit them and I wish that all of you reading this could be with me. These women suffer in ways that is truly unimaginable to most of us. Just being in their presence is humbling to me. They are the ones who can change the world around them if they are given the skills to improve their lives and that of their families. Men in Afghanistan are realizing that it is a good thing for their wives and daughters to be educated and to be part of the society. HOPE rises to the top.

Village Tailoring

The Village Tailoring Course

On Friday we meet with a refugee woman and her daughter living in Kabul who make the wonderful organza bags that we put your purchases of jewelry in.  I’ll try and blog as often as I can so stay tuned and thank you for your support and encouragement.

P.S. When we landed today and walked out of the airport to go to the parking lots where our trusted driver meets us, it was a spectacular spring day and the air was “peaceful”.  (The only way I know how to describe it.)  A strange feeling considering where we are, but I tried to soak it in on the walk to the car…it’s a good way to start.

Blessings from Kabul,

Linda