Rangina & the
embroiderers of Kandahar
In a country riven for decades by war and violent conflict, a society characterised by extreme patriarchy, and an economy in collapse, the women of Afghanistan face unimaginable hardships and challenges.
It's in a context like this where women like Rangina shine all the more brightly. Having set up her own organisation based out of Kandahar, Kandahar Treasure, she works to provide meaningful livelihood opportunities for some 400 women.
Meet Rangina, and the embroiderers of Kandahar Treasure.
Contributing photos and text from Kandahar Treasure.
Rangina Hamidi, the founder of Kandahar Treasure, escaped her native Afghanistan in 1981, at the age of three, during the Soviet occupation. She moved first to Pakistan and then, in 1988, to the United States. Settling with her family in Virginia, Rangina earned a Bachelors degree in Religious Studies and Gender Studies from the University of Virginia and worked for the Institute for International Public Policy, an affiliate of the United Negro College Fund.
Rangina returned to Kandahar in 2003. With a personal commitment to help lead change in Afghanistan she assumed the leadership of the Women’s Income Generation (WIG) Project for Afghans for Civil Society (ACS), a development organisation dedicated to the social development of Southern Afghanistan.
Transforming the income generation project of ACS into a viable business has brought sustainability to the women’s work and now serves as a successful model of sustainable work in a developing nation. Rangina’s work and experience has enabled her to serve as a voice for Afghan women in international platforms.
Kandahar Treasure employs women artisans from the Kandahar area in order to develop an economic base for the province and support the advancement of women throughout Afghanistan.
House of Wandering Silk partners with this remarkable organisation to handcraft fine scarves and shawls using one of the oldest forms of embroidery in the world, called khamak.
Khamak is a Pashto word and consists of extremely fine and intricate stitches in geometric patterns, usually in silk thread onto cotton or linen cloth. It's a very laborious style of embroidery and it can take months to complete a shawl.
For centuries this embroidery has been produced by women who gather in their homes to create pieces of functional beauty. Traditionally it was used on the shawls and long, loose tunics worn by men in southern Afghanistan.
Zia Jaan is a mother of three and is known in the Kandahar Treasure family as the “gold-teeth tailor.” She’s always smiling and has the ability to cheer the women around her even when they’re sad. She is a hard worker and regrets not being educated. She wishes she had daughters so that she could give them the opportunity to study. She says that she wants to work now so that her sons can be educated, and she wants to save enough money so that when she gets old she will not have to depend on them financially! Zia Jaan often jokes with the other women in the program at Kandahar Treasure that we should all save up and open a senior citizen home, so we’ll have somewhere to go when we’re too old to work.
Maami is happily married and has four children – one daughter and three sons. Maami’s family is extremely poor. Until recently, she has always worked as an aide to rich women in their homes. But a year ago, she realised that her services were not valued at the home where she worked and, during a salary dispute, she decided to quit her job and join Kandahar Treasure. Now she is very happy and often says, “I wish I could work here before – I am respected and well paid!”
Khanum Gula has an unusual life story for a woman of Kandahar. She is the eldest of four sisters, none of whom are married! Khanum Gula lives with her mother, three sisters, and a brother who recently got married. She and her sisters work along with their brother to support the family. Khanum Gula loves chewing gum and often gets in trouble with her colleagues for making too many bubbles! She loves to laugh and work. She is one of our best and fastest workers. She always asks for colourful work; she does not like to make dull things.
Shajana is our group’s politician. A highly opinionated woman, Shajana is already a grandmother of three and has herself raised nine children! Years ago, Shajana lost a front tooth and would always cover her mouth with her scarf. When Kandahar Treasure staff asked her why she covered her mouth, she showed us her toothless smile. We thought she looked cool without the tooth, that its absence was part of her identity, and we told her so. Now she no longer wears the scarf and instead smiles with confidence. Shajana talks often about the constant fighting in Kandahar, and once suggested that women march against the violence in the region. Her workmates agreed with her but ultimately decided against the march for fear of being attacked. With her expressive mind, Shajana has become a natural advocate on behalf of the working women in Kandahar Treasure.