Oct 2

Afghanistan Jewelry Project

Eternal Threads projects in Afghanistan include carpet-weaving in a remote village, tailoring courses for women and education for village children.  However, our involvement in Afghanistan originated in a partnership with Onemaker, an organization founded by a good friend, Jana Harp Dean.  Jana lived in Afghanistan for a year and half organizing a jewelry making project to give desperate women an opportunity for income to help their families.  Their first product was the beautiful King’s Garden bracelet which continues to be one of our most popular items.  Thousands of tiny glass beads are lovingly stitched together to make this exquisite bracelet representing King Zahir Shah’s beautiful gardens.  The artisans commemorate the late King whose reign was known for peace, educational opportunities for women and democratic reforms.

Onemaker’s project was turned over to the women when Jana left Afghanistan and the project is now being managed by a new Afghan partner.  The women are presently making the beautiful Pearls of Perseverance bracelets in several colors and the Mother’s Love garnet bracelet.

The income received from the making of these bracelets is vital to these women and their families.  Just wearing one of their bracelets is a symbol of the global community of women that Eternal Threads strives to create.  A community that can support those most in need of our help!!

Feb 7

Gifts of Light and Love!

Afghan blown glass

A special gift of light for women in Afghanistan!

After a month hiatus from the holidays, February always brings to mind the gifts that we might like to give those we love…our sweethearts, wives, husbands and girlfriends.  Even in countries where marriages are arranged and the celebration of Valentine’s Day is frowned upon there is still the fascination and desire to do something that expresses our “love”.  The heart is the universal symbol for that expression displayed on cards, chocolate boxes, balloons and a hundred other ways. It’s an appropriate symbol because it is our heart that prompts us to love those we know and those we do not know.

I’ll never forget getting the email from our partner in Afghanistan on a Sunday morning asking if I would pay to send a woman “barber” to the village once a month so that she could cut the women’s hair…something that they had never had done for them before.  My response was “absolutely”!!  What a gift to them.  He told me in that email that the women artisans we work with do not know what a “gift” is…they have no understanding of the concept.  They have never been given a gift of any kind by their husbands, brothers or sons.  It is completely foreign to them.  One of the women later told him that when the woman barber comes to the village “it is one of her good days in her life.”  Wow, I just had my hair cut Friday afternoon and it was more of an annoying errand I had to do!!

We’ve been thinking at Eternal Threads how we can bless these women with the gifts that we give for Valentine’s Day.  

I’ll be going to Afghanistan again in March and I’ve made the decision that I will go to the village to visit the women.  I’ll probably try and think of something I can take to them as a small token gift, but everything seems trivial compared to their needs.  

What they need is light in the darkness. The women need hope that they can survive in a world where they cannot work outside the home.  They can have that hope through skills that we can give them.  This month we hope to start two tailoring projects in and around the city of Herat where we work.  The hand crank sewing machines have been donated, but we need to provide the trainers and supplies for these six month training programs.

How special would your Valentine gift be if it helped to give these women the gift of hope they really need? The beautiful handblown dishes you see in the photo above are famous from the city of Herat. We are offering them as a special purchase for $10…ALL proceeds will go to the tailoring projects. Each dish will come in it’s own gift box with tea lights and a special message to the person receiving this as a gift.

You can purchase online or call the Eternal Threads office…888-487-4549. Supplies are limited!

Nov 5

Building a school Afghan style!!

You can’t find it on a map, but due to your generosity the children in this village will have a school before winter. Here are some great photos of the work in progress. The children are so excited about the school that they helped carry the bricks one day. The entire village is behind this effort. They donated the land and the village elder is being very helpful and cooperative. We only need $1700 more to receive a very generous matching grant from an Eternal Threads border member to finish paying for the school.
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Oct 28

4 Days in Kabul

From the founder. New Delhi, India

I arrived a day late in Kabul so we only had four days to accomplish what we needed to do. It went amazingly well and we felt like we were finished with what we needed to do when our partner left to fly to his home and I came to New Delhi to visit a friend on my way to Nepal.

Our biggest challenge was convincing FedEx to continue to ship our goods for us. Even though they had shipped for us in the past, they had been refusing to do so since May. We went to the FedEx office directly from the airport on my arrival and as many things are in developing countries and especially those in conflict, all it took was for me to show up personally in the office. We were assured that we could ship with no problem. On Saturday we took four large boxes that left for the U.S. on Sunday. Watch our website for photos of these fantastic carpets that were shipped and many more.

The rest of our time was spent with follow-up to my visit in May…refining some of the products that are in development. It sounds like it should be easy, but developing products in Afghanistan is far from easy. Especially since I can’t go and meet with the women myself (something I hope to do next spring.) It’s a matter of figuring out what their skills are and then trying to develop that into a marketable product rather trying to teach them a skill they are unfamiliar with. The women in our village do have very fine carpet weaving skills and we continue to try and develop patterns that will be appreciated in the west. We also want to develop some products that will help women in the village that do not make carpets…especially the young girls. Our partner brought samples of some of the embroidery that the girls (age 14 to 16) make…one of the most extraordinary skills I have EVER seen anywhere in the world.

Afghan embroideryThis exquisite embroidery is solid minute stitching with silk thread. Girls learn to do this when they are very young because they must make the front of a tunic shirt solid with this embroidery for their future husbands. Machine embroidery is now replacing much of it, but the skill these girls possess can never be matched by a machine. Watch our website and blog for new products that are developed with this embroidery…bookmarks, Christmas ornaments, pot-pourri bags and cell phone cases.

Two very exciting prospects came up while we were in Kabul. We discovered that one of the finest cashmere (kork) wool comes from the area where our project is located. (BTW: a very famous designer who shall remain nameless is using this cashmere in her products!!) Our partner is going to pursue the option of getting the necessary spinning wheels and train women to knit this amazing fiber into products. Older women do the spinning and younger women knit. The spinning is second nature to the women in our village because they are nomadic women that have always processed wool from their sheep and goats. This is a perfect fit for them.

Our second new development came through my friends John and Jan Bradley who were in Kabul at the same time. They established the Lamia Foundation which builds schools in Afghanistan, but because of Jan’s amazing networking skills she has a donor in the U.S. who wants to furnish fabric and sewing supplies for sewing centers in Afghanistan. We hope to be able to open 3 of these in our village and in the city where our partner lives. Money has also been provided to purchase the hand crank sewing machines that will be needed for the projects. All we will have to do is find sponsors who will pay for the trainers. This is very exciting for these women!

Oct 24

Looking Back and Forward!

From the founder. Kabul, Afghanistan.

Before leaving for Afghanistan and Nepal last week I made a short trip to my alma mater, York College in York, Nebraska. It was homecoming weekend and I was scheduled to speak in chapel and some classes, so as I was traveling I was compelled to “look back” and reflect on things. Not something you take the time to do very often, but possibly a good exercise to look back at the past to know better how to proceed into the future.

Sometimes you don’t know how all the experiences you have and relationships you make will add up to what you ultimately do in life. You make think they are random, but if you are willing God usually has a plan that reveals itself to you little by little.

I’d like to tell you that I knew from the very outset what my life would look like and what I would do with it, but I didn’t. I’m glad God could see the whole picture and give me snapshots along the way for me to see – when I was paying attention that is!

I committed to my first “mission” trip when I was a student at York College that probably created both a desire to serve and a desire to travel. I didn’t know then that I would spend 27 years of my professional life as a flight attendant. It’s very random to think of that career as preparing for ministry, but then there was that “plan” again that I wasn’t fully aware of. The travel experience, learning about other cultures, developing a life-long fascination with textiles and ethnic crafts, having the time to go back to school and study theology as well as the opportunity to develop photographic skills all added up to something in the end.

Half way through my career I committed my time-off and airline travel benefits to serving in South India. This was the second juncture in my life that ultimately lead to the establishment of Eternal Threads. It put me in contact with extreme poverty for the first time in my life and set me on a path of thinking about what my response to that should be as a person of faith.

I fell in love with India and especially the people that lived in extremely poor, rural villages. I don’t mean to sound sexist, but it was the women that really captivated me. I’ve often said that it’s the Nebraska farm girl in me that gave me such an affinity for these women and what their lives were like. It was their hard working and humble spirits that drew me to them. They never had the opportunity to be educated as I had and their only desire was to make life better for their families as it is for women all over the world. That first year I helped start a child sponsorship program (India’s Child) to help educate their children, but I thought for many more years about how I could eventually bring meaningful income to them.

That took a few more years of development but in the year 2000 Eternal Threads established it’s first project in this area of India making the original Sofi tote. This project taught me what I had to do to help women living in extreme poverty to have a sustainable income. They have to be able to make a product with the skills they already possess and raw materials that are readily available to them and most importantly to be able to work from home. I’ve learned many more lessons along the way, but we now represent women in 12 countries. Eternal Threads is part of the Fair Trade Federation, which means that we insure that the women are receiving a fair and living wage for the goods they make which gives them the potential of a sustainable income.

The greatest focus of our work at present is in Afghanistan and Nepal where I will be traveling on this month. In Afghanistan we are working with nomadic women in a very remote village on the Iranian border. Because of the poverty level and conditions after decades of war, we also do a great deal of humanitarian work in this village…we just sent 26,000 lbs. of donated aid to the village…much of which was nutritious, dehydrated food because in the winter there is nothing to eat. We also send school supplies and are building a school which we hope will be finished soon.

In Nepal we are primarily working with a local partner to prevent the trafficking of Nepalese girls across the border into Indian brothels. Additionally, much of our focus is in giving vocational training to rescued and “at risk” girls so that they can have an income that will prevent them from being tricked into taking “jobs” which don’t exist. Working on a sewing center for these girls will be my main focus on this trip to Nepal.

Sometimes I’m asked the question whether or not what I do is ministry or a mission? The only answer I can give is that girls in Nepal that are rescued come to know that someone cared enough to save them from a life of slavery and death…a profound witness in itself.

I want to tell you one story that illustrates this to you. When young women are successfully trafficked the brothel owner than turns them into traffickers themselves sending them back to their home villages to bring more girls to “work”. When our partner caught a young woman on the border that was doing this, he was prompted not to turn her into the police and spoke to her instead about his own life experience and what forgiveness means. He and the staff spent a lot of time with her, they had a meal together and he let her go. The next week she came back and and asked if they would help her escape the brothel. She ultimately returned to her home village and is a powerful witness for making others aware of the dangers the traffickers pose to village girls.

Our Afghan partner is passionate to show the villagers we work with that they are not forgotten and that there are those in the world that care about them. He is especially determined to educate the girls in this village to prevent them from begin sold at an early age to older husbands. I am humbled by his commitment and willingness to risk his life to do it.

Afghan School Girl

Afghan School Girl

As I was boarding the bus at the Dubai terminal to go to my flight to Kabul I found a seat by a young american from Georgia. His name was Lance. He’s been working in Afghanistan as a contractor for 2 years primarily building schools in the same area where our project is located. As we talked about the need for education especially for girls I mentioned the time magazine article that I had just bought in the airport with the front cover: “Why the U.S. can’t save Afghanistan.” He commented that the men he works with both Afghan and American have come to the conclusion that if Afghanistan is going to be saved it will be the women that do it!!! Women have been oppressed in Afghanistan in horrific ways in the past and the present…maybe those school girls in headscarves are the future.

Aug 23

School House Hopes

Receiving precious school supplies!

Now that the children in the Afghan village have school supplies and a qualified teacher they are anxiously awaiting their new school where they don’t have to sit in the hot sun or in the cold winter and the girls have a room of their own.

School children with Hoopoe books that tell Afghan folk tales and teach critical thinking.

Wanting to learn and needing a school.

May 12

Reflections on Afghanistan

I’m now sitting in the ultra modern Dubai airport, a world away from where I was just 5 hours ago. Yesterday I spent some time sitting in the garden of the guest house reflecting on the last two weeks. The roses were in full bloom and the birds were singing. It was quiet and peaceful and the sun was welcome. This morning as we drove to the airport at 5:30 the city was just waking up. There were very few people on the streets…children being walked to school by their parents, phone card sellers taking their position in the traffic lanes and people going to work. It had the same quiet quality that all cities have early in the morning and I was enjoying the ride. Then we passed a woman in a burqa with her small child sitting next to her in a traffic circle with her hand extended, begging for a handout. I wondered if she was a war widow or just desperate and if anyone ever drops something in her hand. A few moments later we passed an outdoor garden shop with pots of petunias!! The contrast was jarring, but a testament to people’s will to survive and make a life for themselves and their families irregardless of the circumstances.
Afghan woman begging

Our Afghan partner and I talked about what it’s like for people who are trying to survive in war zones and poverty and why they have trouble thinking about things in a forward and open way to make changes that would better their lives. His response was that sometimes people who are living in these circumstances do not have the time to sit and think with “rested” minds to evaluate and question things.

When I was at Bagram, there were 3 things that I wrote in my journal so I wouldn’t forget them. We met with a reserve officer from Chicago who has plans to put an Afghan bazaar on the base so that soldiers can have a real feel of Afghan life even though they never leave the base. I hope he’s successful and I hope they will do the same at the base near our work so we can have a shop there. He had two signs on his wall that I wanted to remember. “Never forget why you are here” with a picture of the towers on 9/11 and “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” Change is so difficult and yet it has to happen for people to survive. I saw evidences of change during my time in Kabul. Girls in stylish, yet modest clothes and ball caps over their scarves. They are small things, but powerful statements just the same.

Our partner told me, “I’m happy that I have this mind to not follow old customs that make no sense.” He used the analogy, “If you’ve had a business for 25 years and it’s not doing anything good for you then release yourself and look for something different.”

So the questions are “Why are we here?” and “Why should we care?” I have some reasons…

We repacked our school supplies on Saturday morning and took them to all the bus stations in Kabul to ship them. School SuppliesNone of the bus companies would take them because they said that if they were found with them, the drivers would be beheaded!! We were able to ultimately get them shipped with the Hoopoe Books.

Our partner was unable to fly back to his city for three days because flights were cancelled due to the fact that an insurgent missile had been lobbed at the airport and damaged the runway which had to be repaired. I hated that he couldn’t get back to his family, but we were able to accomplish some more things. On Tuesday morning he told me of the news that you will only hear on the local Afghan channel. Four school children were beheaded by the Taliban in Khost province as a warning to others not to go to school. It’s hard to believe that someone can be brainwashed so thoroughly that there is not a spark within them to stop them from doing that to a child. It is almost more than your mind can comprehend. Education will bring that change that they so desperately fear because it will mean that they can no longer control the people. I don’t know if I could send my child to school after that news, but there are stories of Afghan children facing down death to go to school.

While our partner was in Kabul this week the village elders/bosses came to the women in our project and told them that they would have to pay a commission to them for the income they are receiving in making the carpets. Really….for what??? The women in these villages do all the physical labor as it is….working in the fields, taking care of the children and the animals and of course, cooking for their families and not eating themselves if there isn’t enough food. Our partner has always told me that the women are treated like animals. He is a “little” upset about this and will talk to the bosses when he gets back. He will give them the choice whether they like having the clean water to drink, food and clothing in the winter and school supplies for the children or if they would like for us to work in another village. The women have said they would move to any other village with us.
Women's work

The third thing I remember from Bagram was the Special Forces Major talking about creating “White Space” for change to happen. I know he was talking about security, but I like the term “white space.” Light does that to the darkness…even the smallest candle flame illuminates the darkest place. Our partner is lighting those candles little by little and so is everyone else working in a place that would appear to have no hope. One of the women staying in our guest house has lived in Afghanistan for over 30 years. Her husband was one of the 10 that were killed last year, but she remains.

I know that since Osama was killed there is a debate going on in America whether we should stay in Afghanistan. There is one thing I am sure of if we don’t stay….what will happen to the women and the children. It is almost unthinkable.

I’m sure you remember the photo on the front of the magazine with the young Afghan bride’s nose and ears cut off. Our partner saw her in the hospital in his city. This city has the highest incidence in Afghanistan of young women setting themselves on fire (Khood Soozy) because they are being forced to marry men as much as 40 years older than they are. And, I as an american woman have so many choices available to me that sometimes my head spins.

I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for the girls in the ball caps.
Afghan School Girls

May 11

French Food and the Bird Market

I should try and make everyone feel sorry for me, but the guest house we are staying at in Kabul has some of the best food I’ve EVER eaten. The Afghan woman who is the cook was trained to prepare western food for foreigners. Her apple crisp and banana bread are awesome!!! I guess I have good timing in leaving, however, because the orthopedic surgeons that are here from England fixed her knee today and she’s going to be out of commission for two weeks!! So anyway it wasn’t that I was desperate for some good food, but we went to the only French restaurant in Afghanistan for lunch….the food was good, but the best part was the real latte instead of Nescafe. It is in a private house behind locked gates with no sign and only the locals know it is there. I guess I’ve gotten a bit used to going to restaurants behind locked gates, but it does serve as a reminder as to where you are.

After lunch we talked our driver into taking us to the Bird Market which may be one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen anywhere. A tiny narrow lane filled with bird cages for sale and every kind of bird imaginable along with a few rabbits. I’d been looking for a jewelry component that we could use with some hand blown glass beads. I never expected to find it in the Bird Market, but I think I found a winner!!! You’ll have to wait until the necklace comes out to see it.

Our partner and I finished our work over the weekend. Making the trip to Kabul was the right decision. We have been able to accomplish so much in the last week. Lots of great product ideas for the women to make and good conversations which couldn’t be had over email or the phone. He is very talented in so many ways, but is VERY good at knowing how to take our ideas and get the product produced. We will have to hire a sewing and embroider teacher to travel to the village for a month or two to train the women to have the proficiency they need, but it will be worth it. We will continue to make carpets in some amazing new patterns that we found this week, but we want to employ more women so the sewing and embroidery will be a good option.

Product Development

We also decided that he will find a qualified teacher to take to the village when he travels there twice a week. The teacher that is currently in the village has only a 6th grade education and can only teach through memorization. Taking a qualified teacher to the village will give the children at least two days of good teaching and the current teacher will learn as well. He can also help with teaching the Hoopoe books to the children and adults. I think this is a viable option to try and get some real education to the children…it is the hope for the future.

I did get a few of my questions answered about the latest fashion in Kabul. As you can imagine it varies quite a bit…young women with all the necessary modesty BUT very stylish, women in burqas and everything in between. I did have a double take moment coming out of a restaurant after lunch and seeing a woman in a blue burqa with a blue umbrella. I thought it was so cool that she had an umbrella to match her burqa and was so frustrated I couldn’t get my camera out in time to take a picture. Then I realized, “Wait a minute…what’s the umbrella for???” I guess if you are covered in fabric from head to toe it’s good to have something to block the sun. What a life these women live…but the young ones are making their statements none the less. Something I hadn’t seen before was girls wearing ball caps over their head scarves. I wish I had thought of that. It would be a way of keeping the scarf on and shade your face at the same time. Clever girls!!
Afghan School girls

May 8

Guns and Roses!!

On Friday, we went to the U.S. military base near Kabul for some meetings and to collect the school supplies that Eternal Threads had shipped for the children in our village. Before we left I took a walk around the garden of our guest house and counted the rose bushes…35 of them…all ready to bloom. I can’t wait. I had seen so many roses when I was in Afghanistan before so I wasn’t surprised that they had them at the guest house, but I didn’t expect to see them in a more unlikely place. At the Humanitarian Aid yard at the base where we went to pick up our school supplies, Chief Lawrence has rose bushes in full bloom planted in crates at the entrance to the yard. Someone had recently demolished the gate to the yard when they hit it with their trucks picking up some goods. He said, “I can get the gate fixed, but I was more worried about my roses.” I love things you don’t expect in places you least expect them. Chief Lawrence and his roses might be one of those unexpected moments, but he was actually typical of everyone that we encountered that day. Our soldiers are an amazing group of people doing an even more amazing job.

We got to meet several of them working particularly with Cultural Support Teams to try and win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The most amazing to me were the young women who are part of a new initiative – Female Engagement Teams. They are setting up sewing centers in villages for women. When they go to meet with them they remove their helmets and put head scarves on. (Oh, I forgot to say that the best part about being at the base all day was that I could take my head scarf off…I’ll never get used to it and it’s always falling off.)

We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with them as I had hoped, but I hope to be able to learn more about how the initiative is going…what’s working and what isn’t. Our partner and I have laid out the plans to begin a sewing center in our village which will require purchasing some sewing machines and taking a sewing teacher to the village twice a week for a month at least or maybe longer for the women to become proficient. We developed several products this week that will be something they can produce.

We had to leave the base sooner than we would have liked, but our drivers were worried about getting back to late. We took a different route on the way back and it was spectacular. The base sits right up against the Hindu Kush mountains and as we drove home there were nomadic tribes on either side of the road with their tents, herds of goats and sheep and camels. I wish it was safer to be out in the countryside more.

May 5

Finding Hope

So much has happened since my last post and two days without internet. Security alerts were issued for this week because of threats of violence against the military and western targets, but then we received the unexpected news that OBL had been killed. Security is probably a little tighter because of it, but life seems to go on. We weren’t sure what we might be able to accomplish the day we received the news, but we actually had a great day and were able to find hope in HOOPOE Books.

These beautiful books are old Afghan folk tales that were published for the first time in 2006. Hoopoe Books has received a Public Diplomacy Grant from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to distribute 2.4 million of these books to provinces across Afghanistan. Eternal Threads is receiving 12,000 of these books to be distributed in the area where we work not only to school children but their parents as well. They will be fantastic tools for teaching literacy to adults and are especially useful in teaching critical thinking. We were able to go to the offices here in Kabul yesterday morning to arrange for our shipment of the first two book titles (there are six stories in all). They will probably go by bus and Hoopoe is even paying the shipping costs. Two more stories will be published in June and the remaining two in the fall. Our partner is beyond thrilled and excited about having these books for the children. They will have never seen anything like them in their lives. Can you imagine how these books alone will change this village?

Hopefully in the next few days we will be visiting a company that produces Domed buildings that can be used for schools and would be a perfect solution for our remote village. I can’t believe they only cost $6500 with $500 for a solar panel. They have a door and big windows for ventilation. They paint the inside and lay carpeting. Our children sit on the ground outside for school so this would be amazing for them. They will house about 70 students. They will stay have to go to school in shifts, but that’s true all over Afghanistan because the Taliban burned so many schools that there is not enough for the children to attend school all day. Afghanistan has the highest proportion of school age children in the world and yet half of them do not have access to education.

We will be going to Bagram Air Force base on Friday to meet with the Female Engagement Teams that are establishing sewing centers in villages. It’s really cool….the officers take off their helmets and wear a head scarf when they are in the village. I can’t wait for this meeting and will be writing more about it later, but we hope to be able to get the school supplies that we shipped from the U.S. for our village and get them on their way to our village to be distributed. The children have never had school supplies. Sometimes 3 or 4 kids will share one pencil and they often don’t send their girls to school just because they don’t have the money to buy supplies. This photo is of airmen from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas preparing to load our school supplies on skids in January.
School Supplies

Our partner is a real “thinker” so I’m enjoying every moment that we just get to sit and talk. I was asking him every question that I could think of about whether or not he is safe going to the village and what all the scenarios might be of things that could happen. He assures me that because we have done so much good in the village….a water well dug with money raised by ACU students, winter clothing and food relief, a place for the women to work and income for the carpets they make….that the villagers would warn him if they thought they weren’t safe. That made me feel a little better, but before we finished talking he said, “BUT this is what I WANT to do. I want to change my country.” I know what he means so we stopped having the “What If” discussions.

He has a 12th grade education, but his wife never learned to read and write like so many others so he is teaching her at night. I’ll confess to all of you that it would be so easy to lose heart, to convince yourself that there really isn’t anything you can do that will make a difference. Especially being here if you thought about it too long you would give up hope. It’s so easy to ask yourself the questions that plague you. I had been thinking that all I’m doing is trying to make a difference in a remote village and maybe it isn’t enough. My partner and I were talking about this and he told me something that may sustain me the rest of my life as a human being and particularly as a woman. He said, “You know, you are a great lesson for us. Why would a woman from the other side of the world care about people in a village on this side of the world THAT isn’t even on a map.” When he said that to me he was saying it to all of you who have been a part of the work of Eternal Threads. Sometimes showing that you care may say more than the things you actually do….I hope so. Thank you for partnering with us in this adventure in a village that does exist whether it’s on a map or not and whether or not I ever get to see it. Everything we can do to give our partner credibility and the respect and trust of the village elders is what matters most.