Living in a remote area of Afghanistan where there are limited employment opportunities for women, mother of five Siamoi had always been reliant on her male family members to bring home an income. Siamoi always helped where she could to provide for her family - for many women across Afghanistan, this means that when crises occur, they have to be tough, with women often the first to forego food and other basic necessities to ensure other household members are cared for.

“Then Afghanaid came, and they taught skills to a hundred women.” Recognising that the key to a more secure, positive future lies in the untapped potential of women like Siamoi, Afghanaid worked alongside Siamoi’s Community Development Council to identify women in the local area who could take part in intensive vocational livelihoods trainings and join local self-help groups.

Through learning skills such as poultry rearing, tailoring, and soap making, and by accessing the resources they need to make the most of their tough, resilient resolve to care for their families, these women were given the opportunity to earn their own income to support their families and lift them out of poverty.

Five years ago, I knew how to do some soap-making, but I was illiterate and did not have some of the tools and resources I needed to make money from it. I learned more from Afghanaid. For example, making facial cream, making soap, face oil, facial soap.

After undertaking 6 months of training in soap-making and literacy lessons, Siamoi was then made the head of her local self-help group, a collective of 20 women that are brought together to meet weekly to share skills, solve their common problems and form their own micro-businesses.

Siamoi welcomes the other members of the group to her home to make their soap. The group also received seed grants: an injection of funds which they can use to establish rotating loans, to help them grow their enterprise and also have vital financial buffers to support them when crises or unforeseen costs arise.

“The first time Afghanaid gave us 20 thousand Afghanis, and the second time 20 thousand again, so it totalled 40 thousand. With the money, we prepared a kitchen to make our soap, and can take out loans.”

The group has now been working together for 4 years, and produce around 500 soaps a week. “When my self-help group members come, one of them lights the fire and the others bring the oil, the soap moulds, and our work goes on. Then we take the soap to the city to sell, which we have an agreement with the shopkeepers to deliver 50 to 100 for each keeper.”

Being part of this group has taught us so much, now our eyes are open and we are all working towards becoming successful business women.

Using their profits, the groups have been buying other materials to make a greater variety of soaps, and Siamoi has now taught other members of the group how to produce a particularly popular thick, yellow-coloured face cream which they sell in small jars. The special ingredient of the cream is melted beeswax. 

In the summer months, blazing heat seeps through the glassless windows of Siamoi’s mud-brick home, which are called qal’ahs. But the weather in this mountainous region is volatile: average winter temperatures in Siamoi's province can hit as low as -5°C. Beeswax face cream can therefore be popular to help protect against these harsh and variable forms of weather, as beeswax has excellent benefits - it can help form a protective layer on the skin's surface, helping to shield the skin from harsh weather and environmental irritants. "The cream is very popular," Siamoi told us, "We took them to women's exhibition organised by Afghanaid this week, where local shopkeepers came to see our products."

Hope, Solutions, Change: It starts with them

A younger member of Siamoi's group, Gul Makai (pictured), has only very recently given birth to her first child. Membership in her self-help group and their thriving soap business has therefore been invaluable, as it has not only enabled her to buy basic items for her child - such as diapers, clothes and blankets for winter - but is has also given her a space to seek advice, which helped her to feel less isolated in the exciting yet overwhelming experience of becoming a mother for the first time. “I am very happy to have this income, and this group of women.”

Whilst providing a financial and emotional lifeline to women like Gul Makai, this support network of friends and colleagues are also an invaluable vessel for bringing about attitude changes in local areas. When women earn an income and support their families to lift themselves out of debt, they raise their status in the home. This enables them to become more involved in decision-making and ensures that the value of women's contributions is well understood for many years.

How can you help?

These life-changing self-help groups are a simple, yet powerful solution for women in Afghanistan to cope with the challenges they face. We need your help to form these groups and help them thrive:

Please select a donation amount (required)
Set up a regular payment Donate

Find out more about the transformative impact of self-help groups