Luck be a lady, or in the case of Afghan Hands, a number of ladies, who are quietly working their way to a brighter future. It may seem impossible to remain optimistic about the state of Afghanistan’s economy and prospects for prosperity, but one New York- based organization is doing its best to spread the wealth. The war- torn country offers few opportunities for economic independence, especially for women, but the nonprofit group Afghan Hands has found a way to inspire women with creativity, education, and financial freedom.
The company produces exquisitely embroidered shawls and scarves crafted by widows in centers around Kabul, and then sells them in high end boutiques and department stores worldwide. Each shawl or scarf is crafted from cashmere, wool, pure cotton and silk, and features the artists’ signatures woven into the product in Dari, the native language spoken by many of the women. Started to help Afghan widows most affected by the war, this remarkable program was founded by celebrity make-up artist Matin Maulawizada. A native of Afganistan, he now splits his time between New York and Kabul to oversee Afghan Hands. “I wanted to help restore hope and purpose to the lives of these widows. They’ve been through so much already; they need a sense of purpose and direction.”
In Afghan society, a widow and her children are still considered property of her deceased husband’s family and survive on their generosity. By retaining the opportunity to earn the proceeds of sales from their craftsmanship from Afghan Hands, these women are able to support themselves and their children. “In Afghanistan, starting over after the death of a husband is nearly impossible for a widow. I have been so fortunate to achieve success in New York doing something I love, and want to go home and share it with these women. I want them to know that they have opportunities, as well,” said founder Matin. Matin, who has six sisters, has always made women’s rights as well as education a priority for Afghan Hands. The women are paid to attend classes about basic human, legal and religious rights every morning, then spend their afternoons designing and embroidering scarves.
The company has quickly gained attention for the quality and creativity of their designs. Recently, Saks Fifth Avenue displayed the shawls in the windows of their flagship store as part of their “Brush with Greatness” week. They’ve also earned the support of stylish celebrities: “I love this organization’s focus on Afghan widows who have small children with no other way to support them.” raved actress Cynthia Nixon, of Sex in the City fame, at a fundraiser for Afghan Hands hosted by Orlane Skincare Products recently. Claire Danes, a longtime supporter of Afghan hands said, “They make beautiful scarves and you know when you’re wearing one that you are supporting a woman in this war torn country.”
Matin also realizes the importance of looking after everyone in the family: in addition to Afghan Hands, he is launching Afghan Paws, a new initiative that will care for stray pets in need of a home in Kabul. The proud parent of two rescued dogs, Roman, an Italian Greyhound, and Pablo, a mutt, Matin aims to have Afghan Paws become just as successful and sustainable as Afghan Hands.
Matin Maulawizada is a celebrity and editorial makeup artist. His work has been featured on the covers of Vogue, Elle, Glamour and Vanity Fair. His clients include Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow.
To donate to Afghan Hands, please visit http://www.afghanhands.org/code/contribute.html.