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.
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. www.hoopoekids.com/afghanistan.htm
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.
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.
I wondered what it would be like returning to Afghanistan after four years. Would I feel as secure as I did the first time or would it be more unsettling? What would women be wearing now and how much would I have to cover up? Normally when you travel to a world capitol it is interesting to see what the latest fashion is, but here it’s what do you have to wear to be safe and not attract attention if that’s possible!!!
My original plan for this trip was that I would travel to the west to visit our partner and hopefully visit the village where our carpet weaving project is, but in the last few weeks it became unwise for me to do that. The greatest danger would not necessarily be to myself, but to our partner. Afghans who work with foreigners are putting themselves at great risk so I would not risk raising his profile by being seen with me. As much as I regret not being able to visit the village we decided that we could accomplish what we need to do by having him meet me here in Kabul for several days. He arrived at the guest house where we are staying this morning and I knew immediately that I had done the right thing in coming. In just an hour of face to face conversation we accomplished more than months of emails. There is much to talk about concerning the project and so much to learn about the current situation here and hope for the future. It’s exciting to be able to talk to someone who is experiencing it and not just hear it in news reports.
I had not known before that he and his family were refugees in Iran during the Russian invasion when he was only a small boy. He is now 31 years old and has 3 sons. He is fluent in Dari/Farsi, Pashtun (his native tongue) and Persian because he grew up in Iran. He has been traveling to the village twice a week for a year…a 140 km journey each way through 10 police check points. He and his mother-in-law have been holding classes for the village people (both men and women) to try and convince them not to sell their 5 year old daughters to husbands in other villages. He was so upset when he learned of this practice that he had to do something about it because he now believes that if he has a daughter he will not take a dowry for her. He says that the classes are having a very positive effect in the village.
Education is the key to any hope for the future. We will be spending time finding products for the women to make, but we will also be discussing ways in which we can improve the education of the children in the village…I can’t wait for our meeting tomorrow.
Here are the stories of how 3 womens’ lives were significantly changed through working at The Stream in Mongolia.
“I have been working here for almost 11 months. I have not become rich but I have learned many things. I really like this work, it is very interesting. If I worked at a restaurant, it would only be a job. But here, I really appreciate the people I work with. Now I have good relationships. In the mornings, we share with each other. Since working at Streams, my heart has changed. I have peace. I have become active in a church. All of my children and family except a brother and my mother have become believers. This is a very pleasant place.”
“My character has changed so much since my old life. I used to be very loud and aggressive with a hard heart and character. Even my voice used to be like a man. It has been almost 3 years since I first came to Streams. I have been working with jewelry for a year and 5 months. At first I got no money but I enjoyed being here. I can now make things with my hands. I am so thankful to be here. My life has changed. I really have peace and satisfaction in this work. When I am here, I am fed spiritually. We study God’s word. Now my son and I are both Christian and we pray and talk about the Bible together.”
“My heart has changed. I am happy now. I am so glad. I am now with nice people and have healthy relationships. We can share with each other and counsel each other. I have done many wrong things, but I have received forgiveness. I want to learn and grow. I want to learn this job and work here. I don’t go out on the streets any more and I don’t want to. This organization has done so much for me. They have given me whatever I needed. They are loving me. Their love is changing me. I like to make jewelry. Every woman likes jewelry. It is nice work. When I work here, my heart is at peace. I am so glad, I’m so glad to be here. I am always happy.”
Over 15 women gathered with their children to celebrate Children’s Day in Mongolia. Here is the testimony of their experience:
“One month ago was Children’s Day here in Mongolia. We had about 15 Ladies and their kids come to the café that we rented for a day of celebration and fun. It was a fun time of relationship building and sharing. Pray as we continue the long process of building trusting relationships with the Ladies. We now have 4-5 ladies coming every day for devotions, jewelry training and a weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting. All of these women have left their former way of life and now come regularly to our church. They are growing but also have their struggles, so please pray for us and them as we serve them and guide them in the ways of the Lord. The jewelry business is just starting to get going to the point that we can pay some of the women. Please pray that it will grow so that we can pay two or three women a living wage every month.”
Shop for Mongolian jewelry at Eternal Threads, here.
Name: protected for security reasons
Home Country: Nepal
Mission: Staffing the anti-trafficking border units that Eternal Threads’ partner manages. Eternal Threads sponsors two of these units as well as the Safe House where many rescued girls live.
Goal: Prevent as many girls as possible from being taken across the Nepal/India border into Indian brothels and a life of sexual slavery. 12,000 – 15,000 girls a year are trafficked across this open border.
These amazing young women pictured here with Brittany Partridge, the founder of the Red Thread Movement possess courage and commitment beyond their years. Sadly we have had to blur their beautiful faces in order to protect them. Eternal Threads recently met with them and our Nepalese partner in Bombay so that we could all be witness to what happens to Nepalese girls that are trafficked into brothels in cities like Bombay. There was quite a contrast between this photo shoot at India’s Gate in Bombay and the time we spent in a brothel area where there are as many as 15,000 – 20,000 young Nepalese women who have been trafficked. Our partner began monitoring these border crossings four years ago and is constantly endeavoring to find even better ways to not only prevent the girls from being trafficked, but raise awareness in vulnerable communities and set up income generating projects to protect girls from being enticed to take jobs that don’t exist.
The girls were profoundly affected by what they saw in the brothel…the abuse and inhumane conditions. In their own words:
“I’m free, I’m not in captivity. They are the same as me…one in freedom and one in captivity.”
“I saw myself and my sisters in that position and I felt pain in my heart. What if we were there?”
“I felt very sad in my heart. I don’t know what to say to them.”
CNN launched it’s Freedom Project just before Eternal Threads went to Bombay. Our founder took this video of Brittany Partridge in the brothel area and uploaded it from there to CNN. Please watch and spread the word. The Red Thread Movement will be able to be part of this continuing challenge on CNN.
Buy red thread bracelets made by rescued girls, here.
Spread the word to Youth Groups or anyone who might help sell the bracelets.
Follow Brittany’s blog while she in the safe house in Nepal, here.
Name: Rafiatu Adams
Home country: Ghana
Trade and mission: bracelet and bead making and exporter of baskets made by women in her village
Goal: Set up a business for underprivileged women to make a sustainable income through beading.
Rafiatu initially started bracelet making and beading to pay her way through school. As time progressed she became inspired to use her abilities to help other women in need. Rafiatu decided to set up a business for underprivileged girls and “street girls,” teaching them the art of beading so they can have the ability to provide for themselves and their families. To get her business up and running she needs an expanded market to sell her items and that’s where Eternal Threads stepped in. Rafiatu knows how to sell her wares in Ghana, but connecting with women in the U.S. will greatly expand her capacity to serve the young women in her country. She is now raising money to build a place where “street girls” can live and work.
Rafiatu items sold at Eternal Threads
- beaded bracelets and necklaces
- bracelets featuring African recycled glass beads
- handwoven baskets
In her own words
“To be able to employ like 50 girls will really make a big change in the lives of all of us.”
“I have recently paid for the land to be legalized with papers so it is now ours forever. I have also bought a truckload of sand and stones to be used for the foundation but I am stuck for the moment and will begin something as soon as I start mobilizing enough.”
Rafiatu’s beads and baskets are now being sold at Eternal Threads’ Gatherings and at our Abilene Warehouse. They will soon be available on our website. Visit eternalthreads.org to find out more about Gatherings, other ways you can help and to learn stories of other Eternal Threads’ women around the world.