KHALEDA SARWARI
AFGHANAID
Location: Afghanistan
Occupation: Humanitarian social worker.
Khaleda, originally from Kabul, moved to a village in Samangan Province after an arranged marriage. Adjusting to life in her husband’s village proved to be challenging: “I was the only person in the village who had gone to school. It was very difficult.” Initially, her husband’s family did not want her to work, and so she was stuck in the home. Now, she is working to empower women, in one of the world’s most difficult places in the world to be a woman.
Things started to change for Khaleda when Afghanaid came to the region to deliver trainings on human rights and women’s rights, “my husband took those trainings, and they changed his attitude towards the idea of women working,” she says. After 10 years of marriage, her husband’s family allowed her to become deputy manager of her local Council, which was established by Afghanaid, where he natural leadership skills began to flourish.
Soon after, Khaleda was elected as the leader of an Afghanaid-created savings group. Under her leadership, the group collected money to distribute to its members in the form of business loans. “In the beginning, only I had the courage to take out a loan” she recalls. With the money, she bought nine cows. Six months later, she sold the cows and doubled her investment. Later on she took out another loan to buy some more cows and set up her own business making and selling dairy products. Her success drew the attention of other savings groups, who she then developed successful business plans for.
Khaleda’s achievements were also noticed by Afghanaid, and she was promoted to a Master Trainer for savings groups. In this role she visited villages and delivered trainings to other women to help them set up their own businesses.
“As a beneficiary myself, I especially enjoyed the capacity-building training Afghanaid delivered,” Khaleda recalls, “so now I want to share my capacity with others.”
Khaleda then applied for an official staff member position at Afghanaid and, after briefly working for another charity, she re-joined Afghanaid as a senior social organiser for our large-scale women’s empowerment project. Having worked for Afghanaid for a number of years, she is passionate about empowering others. “The things that I’ve experienced, being unable to work – I don’t want my children, or anyone else, to go through those same issues. I want to share my knowledge to help others.
In my opinion, being a humanitarian means having the honour of serving people, by providing them with the basic services and rights deserved by all around the world, regardless of nationality, religion, culture or gender.
My favourite part of my job is working with women, particularly supporting highly vulnerable women who may be isolated, widowed or poor, or women who are the heads of their households. It is great to be able to pass on my good fortune to them and help them to better their lives as I have done.
The most challenging part of my job is working in Afghan communities where democratic processes are in their infancy, so there are many obstacles in reaching these women and we come up against resistance when it comes to furthering women’s human rights. However, we do not give up and progress is always being made. It is in my faith to serve Afghan women and to support them to claim and exercise their rights. In my opinion, helping women means getting them involved in the process of developing and implementing projects which could improve their skills and knowledge, so that they can take the lead in their own development, have a long-term positive impact and drive the progress of their communities forward.”
Having initially been hesitant about the prospect of Khaleda working, her husband’s family is now very happy about her career at Afghanaid. “They like that I’m working for Afghanaid, because of the excellent reputation the organisation has in the community and the safe work environment it provides for women,” she explains. “At Afghanaid, the work environment is respectful, friendly and teamwork-oriented; the staff are like a family. You don’t find that everywhere.”