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.”


India’s croon jewel: Lata Mangeshkar on turning 91 and acing the Twitter game

Updated 27 September 2020

India’s croon jewel: Lata Mangeshkar on turning 91 and acing the Twitter game

  • Legendary singer speaks to Arab News about her career spanning 75 years and a life that has ‘given her much to be grateful for’

PATNA, India: On Monday, as Lata Mangeshkar turns 91, India’s most accomplished and acclaimed playback singer says she will “continue to sing until her last breath.”

“Even today, I feel like a student of music. I have so much to learn when I compare myself to the great musicians of our country. I will sing until my last breath. There is no retirement for an artist,” Mangeshkar said during an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Born in 1929 in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Mangeshkar moved to Mumbai, Maharashtra with her family and four siblings — Meena Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar and Hridaynath Mangeshkar — in 1945.

After recording her first Hindi song for a film titled Aap Ki Seva Mein in 1947, she gained prominence when, at the age of 20, she regaled audiences with Aayega Aanewala in the film Mahal two years later.

“Then there was Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya from Mughal-e-Azam. Audiences would throw coins on the screen when that song came on,” she said.

To date, in a career spanning 75 years, she has recorded more than 30,000 songs in 35 Indian and foreign languages — including Malaysian, English and Nepalese — and earned a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in the process.

But remind her about her achievements, and she shrugs it off with habitual modesty. 

“There have been many talented singers before and after me (such as) Noor Jehanji, Shamshad Begumji, Geeta Duttji before me, and my sister Asha who were all extremely talented. Among the contemporary voices, I like Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghosal and Sunidhi Chauhan,” she said.

Nearly 60 biographies have been written about the legendary singer, but she has not authored any herself. The platform where she does unleash her creative writing skills is Twitter.

With more than 14.6 million followers since her social media debut in 2010, the nonagenarian says she turns to Twitter to “stay in touch with friends” and has rarely forgotten to commemorate a colleague’s death or birth anniversary with a tweet on occasion.

“It’s the least we can do. We owe it to the entertainment industry. Earlier, we could pick up the phone and talk to one another. The only option I have is to meet them on social media,” she said.

And while there are no “fixed hours” for her time spent on the social media platform, she tweets when she has “something to say.”

“Otherwise, I stay away. Social media is addictive, and I advise more personal contact than virtual,” she added.

While the coronavirus outbreak and ensuing lockdown across India since March this year meant restriction on movement, Mangeshkar said that it did not derail her offline schedule.

After a “severe” lung infection last year, and based on doctor’s orders, she now leads a quiet, secluded life at her home in South Mumbai.

“The doctors have severely curtailed all my activities, including movie-watching,” she said, adding that she enjoys listening to music, as long as they are not her songs.

“I don’t listen to my songs. If I did, I’d find a hundred mistakes in my singing. Even in the past, once I finished recording a song, I was done with it,” she said.

This, however, was not the case for several Indian actresses, from Madhubala in the 1950s to Sridevi in the 1980s, who insisted on Mangeshkar singing for their onscreen personas. 

The supreme songstress has sung for five generations of Bollywood heroines, but ask her which actress did most justice to her voice on-screen and she replies after a pause: “That’s a tough one because each heroine brought something special to my songs. But I’d have to go with Nutan. She was a singer herself, and when she emoted my songs, she sang along. The way she performed on Mann Mohana Bade Jhothe (Seema) is exemplary. Jaya Bachchan is also one of my favorites. I think the way she emoted to Bahon Mein Chale Aao (Anamika) added a lot to the song’s enduring popularity.”

And her career-defining song?

“It would have to be Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon (a patriotic song). No matter where I go, people ask about it, and some even ask me to sing it for them,” she said, before considering the question of her “lasting legacy” to the world.

“I honestly don’t know, but if I’ve received so much love for so long, I must’ve done something right.”

Borrowing a few lines from one of her popular songs, she seals off her birthday advice with a message for her fans: “Light one lamp to another and let the love flow. We are going through the worst possible phase in the history of civilization due to the coronavirus. Be kind and generous to those who are less privileged than you. Now is the time to stop being tight-fisted.”