Rangina Hamidi's family escaped Soviet-occupied Afghanistan when she was three; in Pakistan and later the US they found refuge. As a student at the University of Virginia. Rangina felt a calling to return to her native country and work to improve the lives of the women there, 87% of whom are illiterate, unable to leave their homes without a man, and only behind the veiled burqa. Of all the countries in the world to be a woman, UN studies have found this country to be one of the hardest.
In Kandahar, Rangina found that women possessed exquisite skills in khamak embroidery, and began a Center to harness those skills for a new market. Widows from 30+ years of occupation and war desperately wanting to find a way to support their families grew the number engaged through the center to 500 at one point. When the US military base in Kandahar closed, the embroiderer's primary market disappeared and the number of women able to support themselves with this work dwindled.
Rangina's father returned to Kandahar because of his daughter's will and work, becoming over time Mayor of Kandahar. His vision of freedom and progress became too threatening to the Taliban. In a piercing show of power, her father was executed.
Rangina has stayed. She is a target, yes, but a fearless one, face unveiled. She has started a school for girls. While the challenges are massive; she takes one bold step at a time.
The Ibu Foundation is partnering with Rangina to offer design training to the women of Kandahar Treasures. Their exquisite skills are culturally specific and learning how to employ those skills for a larger audience is not easy. Finding a designer to assist them in Afghanistan is not easy. But we are working toward this end, so that the hours of labor invested in each piece yield an object of beauty loved by the maker and the market. As they work, women are learning many other skills as well, including reading and writing; and, in company with one another, finding strength and purpose and hope.
Rangina is an Ibu of the utmost character we admire greatly, leading and shaping the lives of women who are coming into their own self-respect and, for the first time, income. Self-sufficiency changes everything. We want to be a part of that change.
Photos by Paula Lerner and Mary Littrell