Pakistan’s fashion brand helps Afghan women weave their dreams into reality

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Updated 28 November 2018

Pakistan’s fashion brand helps Afghan women weave their dreams into reality

  • Collaborates with UNHCR for initiative to empower refugees staying in the country
  • Program will teach students to market their handmade products in the international market

KARACHI: Shareefa was 35 when she lost her husband to an illness almost a decade ago. 

Uneducated, alone and left with the responsibility of taking care of her two sons, age 8 and 5, and a two-year-old daughter, the Afghan refugee hailing from the Kandahar province and currently residing in Pakistan, said she had no choice but to work as a domestic help for a meager amount, using her earnings to fund her children’s education. 

When her eldest son, Akmal Hayatullah completed his primary school, the board of secondary education in Karachi refused to issue him a certificate for further studies.

“I visited the board several times for six months before I finally decided to discontinue my son’s education and sent him to work [as a mechanic] at a local workshop,” she said.

When things took a turn for worse and with so many mouths to feed, Shareefa was once again forced to stand on life’s crossroads, ultimately stopping the education of her second son, Zabihullah, and daughter, Arifa, too. 

“Zabihullah is now working as a waiter in a restaurant,” she said.

Together, the family of four earn enough to get by, as Afghan nationals have very few or no opportunities for employment in the mainstream sectors.

Therefore, when Shareefa was selected by the UNHCR for the “train the trainers” program, her happiness knew no bounds.

After completing the three-month training program, where designer Huma Adnan took her under her wings in May, Shareefa, along with two other women, is now training 18 other Afghan refugees at the AHAN (Aik Hunar Aik Nagar) center, at Chhota Plaza, in Sohrab Goth.

Shareefa is hopeful that through the initiative she too will soon have her own small business. 

Stitching the same set of dreams, one piece at a time, is Najeeba, one of Shareefa’s students, who says she is confident that one day she will start contributing financially to her family, too. 

“My father works on daily wages. Like other Afghan nationals, my father is being offered little wages due to which he is finding it difficult to run the household. Give us the skill and we will show you how we can make many things,” Najeeba told Arab News.

She added that even though she wanted to continue her studies, lack of educational facilities and tough financial conditions were forcing her to stay at home. “If we have skills, we will also spend our lives according to our wishes,” she said. “Finally, we are having it,” she said.

Currently, three trainers -- Shareefa, Sitara and Sakina -- are teaching a group of six women each at the center. However, designer Adnan says she will select more trainers to reach and impact more women refugees through the program.

She added that the skillsets which these women will eventually acquire will help make them self-reliant in the long run. For that, one of the most important aspects of the program is to market the world-class handicrafts which these women are making. “To sell these in the international market, the best marketing practices should be adopted,” she told Arab while showing sample photographs from a fashion shoot for the jewelery made by the women.

The focus should be on “more quality and not on the quantity of crafts” made, she said, adding that the Afghan women “have shown that they can create the best” handicrafts.

“They are ready to learn, ready to improve and ready to improve their standard of living by working hard to earn a living. All they need is direction and mentorship,” she said.

Pakistan is host to 1.3 million refugees. “We will have to accept that they may hardly return to their homes. So, the best way to make them self-reliant and productive for the society where they live in is to turn them into skillful artisans,” she said, adding that it is the “collective responsibility” of all, including refugees’ agencies and non-government organizations, to realize this dream.

Adnan says every design created by the refugee women holds a special meaning for her. “I know the stories and hard work that is going into this project. Each piece represents beauty and love, loss, fears, and tears and you can see it in the perfection of their finished product,” she said.

Shareefa, on her part, said that the present seems like a dream. “The Afghan women remain at home. Even if educated they hardly come out of work. This program will lead them towards becoming self-reliant and ultimately changing their destiny.”


Marie Fredriksson of Swedish pop duo Roxette dies at 61

Updated 10 December 2019

Marie Fredriksson of Swedish pop duo Roxette dies at 61

  • Per Gessle: You were an outstanding musician, a master of the voice, an amazing performer
  • Fredriksson formed Roxette with Per Gessle in 1986, and in 1989, the pair had their international breakthrough with The Look

STOCKHOLM: Marie Fredriksson, the female half of the Swedish pop duo Roxette, has died at age 61, her management agency said Tuesday.
Fredriksson formed Roxette with Per Gessle in 1986. The two released their first album the same year and went on to achieve international success in the late 1980s and 1990s with hits including “The Look” and “It Must Have Been Love.”
The Dimberg Jernberg agency said Fredriksson died Monday “of the consequences of a long illness.”
It “is with great sorrow that we must inform you that one of greatest and most-loved artists is gone,” the firm said.
On his Facebook profile, Gessle wrote: “You were an outstanding musician, a master of the voice, an amazing performer.”
“I’m proud, honored and happy to have been able to share so much of your time, talent, warmth, generosity and your sense of humor,” he wrote in English, adding “Things will never be the same.”
Fredriksson was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2002. She underwent aggressive treatment that took its toll but ultimately was successful, her management agency said. However, she was left blind in one eye, with limited hearing and mobility, and was unable to read or write. She was also unable to speak for a considerable period of time after her treatment. Over the years she was able to make a gradual return to the world stage
Fredriksson was born in southern Sweden on May 30, 1958, and had her artistic breakthrough in 1984 in Sweden. Two years later, she formed the duo Roxette with Gessle, and in 1989, the pair had their international breakthrough with “The Look.”
They achieved international success with their albums “Look Sharp!” in 1988 and “Joyride” in 1991, and had six top two hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The pair sold 80 million records worldwide and embarked on world tours.
They were Sweden’s best-known band since ABBA in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 2003, Sweden’s Carl Gustaf XVI awarded the duo a royal award. Fredriksson made her first public appearance after her brain tumor operation to receive the honor with Gessle.
Fredriksson is survived by her husband, Mikael Bolyos, and their two children, Josefin and Oscar.