Afghanistan_Woman's hands holding fabric in sewing machine
Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Afghanistan: Solar entrepreneurship

The lights suddenly turn off, the humming of the sewing machine dies down and it is very quiet in Surya Ali’s working station. The traditional Afghan dress with bright colorful stitching is not finished, she still needs to add a whole part. But the only option is to continue by hand. The capital city of Afghanistan turns the electricity off every day. “You never know when it is off, or when they will turn it back on again,” says Surya Ali, 39, mother of eight. Some areas only have power in the mornings, some only for a few hours in the afternoon. The mother is a tailor and sells her dresses at the local market or to shop owners. “I never received an education, so I taught myself how to sew because when I started there was a good market for these skills and I could support my family,” says Surya Ali.

Afghanistan_Woman's hands holding sewed squares in baskets

Surya's embroidery work for a new dress. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

But the economic situation got worse. “I lost everything because my contract to produce dresses was terminated. So, I started my own business.” She is self-taught and learnt by watching other businesses closely. “I saw other companies have logos, so I applied it to my own business and created a logo for myself.” CARE supported Surya Ali with two sewing machines that are solar powered. “I asked if that was possible, because I need to have a way to work with all the power outages,” explains the mother. With the machines she has increased her production. Before she was able to produce one dress a day, now she makes up to four dresses every day. “I now have 40 percent more income than I used to have and can support my family,” says Surya Ali. Her husband lost his government job and is now retired, so it is Surya Ali who sustains her family. However, the economic situation in Afghanistan is still worsening.

Afghanistan_Girl in traditional Afghan clothing sewing

One of Surya Ali's students learning how to sow and do handicraft for sale as she is not allowed to attend school anymore. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

“Many costumers cannot afford to buy dresses. Before I had 25 employees, but a month ago I had to let nearly all of them go because I could not afford their salaries. Now I only have six employees,” says Surya Ali. Additionally, to her tailoring business, she receives some income from the tuition she receives from teaching girls how to sow. Currently she has 45 students. “The girls are not allowed to go to school at the moment, so they come here to learn,” explains Surya Ali. One of her students is her own daughter Manucara, 16, who would be going to 10th grade. “She knows how to sew now, I taught her. She even made her first own dresses, which makes me very proud. But I am also sad for her. She wishes to be a doctor but cannot continue her education. We thought it was temporary, but the schools are still closed.”

Surya Ali wishes to have branches of her business in other districts in Afghanistan in the future and even expand to have international exports. “As a woman and mother, I am happy to be able to support my family, to have my own business and to stand on my own two feet,” Surya Ali concludes.

Afghanistan_Woman hand sewing pillow

Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Empowering women in economic activities is key to achieving gender equality and boosting the growth of national economies. Women’s economic justice is at the core of some of the most successful initiatives across CARE International.

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