BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Amid the arid lands of Afghanistan, where hills and snow-capped mountains surround deserts and poppy fields, a cloud of war hovers over the terrain and all who inhabit it. But there are those who, with the help of WorldCrafts, are finding a measure of hope.
WorldCrafts, a fair-trade nonprofit ministry of Woman's Missionary Union, is helping families through a partnership with an artisan group comprised of women who make jewelry, mosaics and other items.
The artisan group of about a dozen women will sell their handmade products through WorldCrafts and use the proceeds to pay for health care and education for themselves and their families.
"I am very happy that we will soon start a literacy class here," Natalia*, one of the artisans, said.
Forced to drop out of school at age 10 because of an illness, Natalia is illiterate. She lives with her mother, sister, two brothers and her brothers' wives and children. Her father died when she was 11, and she and her sisters were forbidden to marry until her brothers had brides. Natalia, now 28, is deemed too old to marry. But she finds freedom in her ability to work.
"It is very good for me to have my own money," she said. "I can provide everything for myself without asking my brother. Now I can even help my brother, and I put my nephew in school."
At the age of 15, Asha* also understands the constraints of financial oppression. The ninth-grader resides in her paternal grandfather's home with her mother, father, three sisters, three uncles and her uncles' wives. Between her health problems and her mother's, Asha and her family often wondered if they would have enough money for medical treatments and school for Asha and two of her sisters.
But the young girl who dreams of becoming a geologist finds some solace in her job as an artisan with WorldCrafts.
"My father is currently unemployed. I use the money I earn to go to school and to help my father provide for the family," she said.
Anya*, a 32-year-old artisan, said, "I want to finish the 12th grade and go on for a masters/doctorate."
Despite hardships like her husband being injured in an accident, Anya continues her work. "I have children going to school, and my husband is unemployed," she said. "The job is a big help for me."
Anya said she wants her three children to be educated as well. Perhaps through her job as an artisan she can see her dreams for herself and her family come to fruition.
For each of these women and other artisans, working for WorldCrafts has given them a glimpse of life outside continuous war and poverty as well as a chance for success.
"We all are very happy with this job," the group's leader said. "It helps us to forget our family problems for the hours that we are working together, laughing and talking. When we are together, we talk and learn what is going on in the world.
"Being together makes us brave and gives us courage to fight for our rights," she added. "When we see that our children are happy, that we have money to put them in school and buy clothes for them, it makes us happy. Thanks be to God for giving us this job. Thanks to the people who try to provide work for us."
Since 1996, WorldCrafts has imported handmade crafts from artisans worldwide, providing them and their families with hope and income for food, shelter, education and medicine. WorldCrafts works with 70 different artisan groups in 38 countries and has expanded its product line to approximately 370 items.
*Names changed. Visit www.worldcraftsvillage.com to download the fall catalog.