Rokia Sulh still remembers the day that changed her life forever. About seven years ago - she had just prepared dinner for her children and finished watering her small vegetable garden - frantic knocks on the door interrupted the family’s quiet summer evening. 

When she opened the gate, a mob of neighbours had gathered outside and in its midst Rokia’s husband - killed in a car accident on his way home. 

“He went to Mazar-e-Sharif for work,” she remembers, a city about an hour’s drive from the family’s home. “It was a full on collision in the middle of the road. From that day on, I knew I had to manage by myself.”

Support women like Rokia get through this difficult time

Starting over without her husband

A mother of nine - five girls and four boys - Rokia grieved, but she wasn’t afraid to jump into her new role. “I didn’t have an option. I decided I needed to carry on for my children,” she remembered. Both her teenage children and her worked as daily labourers as much as they could, earning a small income to survive on. Years later several of her daughters got married, starting their own families.

For many years since, the family had been living a poor but peaceful life in Karte Sulh, a small village in the north of Afghanistan, surrounded by green fields and gently rising, grass-covered hills. The war hadn’t come close to them and fighting remained in the distance. 

Living in a compound with a small brick house in the middle, some of Rokia’s children had been attending school nearby, a dream that their mother has never been able to fulfil for herself. Two small rooms served as the family’s sleeping and living quarters - there were no toys, barely any school supplies, and very little else, but they had been relatively happy anyway.

Then COVID-19 hit

Earlier this year, with the economy dwindling and the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the country, life was becoming tough, and Rokia started to worry.

“We didn’t have any money and thought about selling our home,” Rokia admitted. “I had never had the opportunity to learn any skills but I realised that me taking on a full-time job would be the only way to get us through this.” 

At the beginning of spring, Rokia joined a small group of women to participate in one of our gabion weaving workshops. The gabion - a metal basket construction filled with heavy rocks, to be used in landscaping and erosion control - was destined to help put almond tree plantations and irrigation systems in place, turning Rokia’s small village into an agricultural haven. 

Equipped with her new skills, alongside thick gloves provided by Afghanaid to protect her hands, tools and metal thread, she decided to take up gabion weaving full-time. Sitting on the clean-swept floor in her compound, she started weaving the metal baskets early in the morning, finishing as many as eight in just one day. 

“I had become part of a chain,” Rokia explained proudly. Her handmade metal baskets were used to ensure almond tree plantations could be put in place on the steep hill without causing erosion, and equipped with deep trenches for irrigation.

This large-scale project has now been able to employ hundreds of local people - from gabion weavers to construction labourers, tree nursery specialists and farmers - providing both a vital source of income and a sustainable farming option for families like Rokia's.

“It’s benefiting our entire community,” Rokia said, who admitted she can’t count how many gabion baskets she had already made. 

From baskets to business

With her new income selling the baskets back to us for use in the plantations, Rokia has started her own small side business. She’s selling sandals in her local market, using the income to put both her last teenage children and her grandchildren through school, "and to buy toys for them for the first time," she laughed, "I'm a business woman now."

 

Finding security amid the pandemic

“I’m happy to have a full-time job right now. I know I can support my family through this difficult time and I can even work from my compound which is safer. I have only one regret: I was never able to go to school,” she admitted, wishing she had learned how to read and write. "I want things to be different for my children and grandchildren."

“The gabion weaving will help me ensure one thing: I’m breaking the circle of illiteracy. Both my children and grandchildren will receive an education - it's a chance for a better future. I watch them learning and I am so proud of them.”

  

Rokia can now support her family through the pandemic and provide her grandchildren, Zahra, Arezu and Nisar (above), with a better future.

Please make a donation today to help more families like Rokia's

Afghanaid is working incredibly hard to protect vulnerable communities like Rakia's during this Coronavirus crisis. We're posting regular updates on the situation in Afghanistan here. During challenging times, donations from our supporters are an absolutely vital resource for us, and will help to ensure we can continue to reach those who need it most, and provide vital assistance to the most vulnerable. Right now we need your help to provide hygiene kits, clean water and emergency food for families who are struggling.

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