Senior aids Afghan women through embroidery
Sulaiman Nasseri '12 has dedicated his time to empower Afghan women through his "Embroidering Peace" program.
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It would be a challenge to find someone quite like Sulaiman Nasseri ’12. A government and global studies double major with a minor in administrative science, Nasseri recently established “Embroidering Peace,” a project that helps women from his native country of Afghanistan to create a sustainable source of income for themselves and their families.
Sulaiman came up with the rough idea for his program while studying abroad in London last year. “I was always thinking of helping the Afghan women in some way because they suffered the most during the few decades of unrest, even though they were never part of the political problem. I knew that helping women would be probably one of the most needed endeavors,” he said.
Sulaiman received a $10,000 grant towards his project as a winner of the Davis Project for Peace initiative, which began in 2007 through the work of philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis. According to the College’s website, this initiative seeks to recognize those who “design and implement innovative techniques that focus on conflict resolution, reconciliation, building understanding and breaking down barriers that cause conflict.”
Sulaiman asked around for ideas, talked to his family and conducted some research of his own before hitting on the idea of empowering Afghan women through the embroidery market of Kabul.
The project started by hiring three professional embroiderers to provide the women with the necessary skills and materials.
“‘Embroidering Peace’ benefits some of the neediest women in Kabul,” Sulaiman said. “Two are widows, all 21 are unemployed and the majority of them didn’t know anything about embroidery before the program started; but they were very keen and enthusiastic. After three months of training, they all outperformed the trainers’ expectations, as well as mine.”
Due to Sulaiman’s initiative, 84 family members directly benefit from the sustainable source of income, and 21 children can go to school. Sulaiman recalls one woman in particular, Guljan, who was in desperate need of cash to take her recently laid-off hubsand to the doctor because of his heart problems. By earning a modest income stitching a minutely detailed shirt, Guljan was able to help finance her husband’s health treatment.
A main concern for Sulaiman was that the project be sustainable. “There are a lot of things I could have done that would help women in the short term, but then these efforts would die down eventually, so I was very careful about the sustainability of the project and the assistance to the impoverished Afghan women in the long-run,” he stated.
“I recently read a study that ranked my home country—Afghanistan—as the worst place for mothers,” Sulaiman said. “The first thing that struck my mind was my mother; and it is not easy to read something like that while your dearest one still lives in a society like Afghanistan. It breaks you down. It is crystal clear that none of us would be here if it weren’t for women,” he continued.
Sulaiman himself fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban with his family in 1999, when he was 13, and lived in Pakistan for two years. “The Taliban brought the Afghans back 2,000 years. They banned certain activities including watching movies, listening to music, playing volleyball or flying kites,” he remembered.
After Sulaiman and his family returned to Afghanistan, he worked for four years at an international non-governmental organization (NGO). For a while, he was the only person financially supporting his family. In 2006, Sulaiman received a scholarship to go to the United World College (UWC) in Italy, and two years later, he matriculated at Colby.
Sulaiman speaks highly of his time on the Hill: “I love being at Colby. What I like the most here is interacting with American students and listening to their perspectives of Afghanistan and the world. I familiarize them and give them a different perspective through what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced because this is so different from what you hear in the media.”
In the future, Sulaiman hopes to develop a website to sell the Afghan women’s embroidery products online. He also hopes to keep 10 percent of the profits in an account in order to maintain stability and include more beneficiaries. He would also like to expand “Embroidering Peace” to include different vocations like tailoring, carpentry and livestock.
“My goal is to provide the means for the impoverished Afghan women to dust themselves off, roll their sleeves up and stand on their feet alongside the Afghan men,” he said. “‘Embroidering Peace’ is, therefore, pitched as a way to make Afghan women less dependent on men and to provide them with a modest income to get their children off the streets and into schools, keeping them out of the child labor pool and making them less likely recruits for the bad guys. My project arms these children with pens rather than guns because an educated generation of Afghan youth will have a different mindset where they will build, rather than destroy, their embattled nation.”
Currently, Sulaiman is in the process of applying to 13 graduate schools, so if you see him be sure to wish him luck on his future endeavors both in his personal life and in the huge impact he is sure to continue to make on the people of Afghanistan.