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Activist Rangina Hamidi Works to Improve Lives of Afghan Women

  • Ibrahim Nasar

While many women try to get out of Afghanistan, a country where women still face enormous hardships even after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent fall of the Taliban, most don't come back. Rangina Hamidi left Afghanistan for Pakistan and later moved to the United States. But the activist and entrepreneur since has returned to her native country on a mission to change the lives of Afghan women in Kandahar, a one-time Taliban stronghold. For reporter Ibrahim Nasar, VOA's Brian Allen narrates the latest installment of our series, Making a Difference.

Rangina Hamidi came back to her homeland after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. She says she was touched by the hardships in Afghan society, particularly among women.

"The situation in Kandahar and all over Afghanistan deeply saddens you," Hamidi said. "It's a situation when you feel and see it, you can't just stick to one work and say this is what I am doing."

Hamidi returned to her hometown, Kandahar, to work with the nonprofit organization Afghans for Civil Society.

"The goal from the day one was to help Afghans learn skills that will give them economic independence, even when the projects end. The first task was starting an independent radio station in Kandahar and then we embarked on an economic regeneration project".

Women in the economic regeneration project make and sell embroidery products in Afghanistan and abroad. It started with only 20 women and grew to 450 in five years.

Local activists and the project also established a Women's Council in Kandahar. Many gathered here for International Women's Day say they are working to advance women's rights and opportunities.

Hamidi has also coordinated aid to help schools in the Kandahar area

Hamidi's family left Afghanistan when she was a toddler, during the Soviet invasion. She says the Taliban rule that followed made life a nightmare for women. She left the country first for Pakistan and later took up a comfortable life in Stoneridge, Virginia.

Now, with the original project self sustaining, Hamidi has started a company. Kandahar Treasure, introduces and sells the women's embroidery products in the international market. She says she will hand this business over to Afghan women once it becomes successful.

Hamidi says she still worries about the future of her country as she watches reconstruction, with a foreign power deeply involved.

"Afghans themselves have to take their own share of responsibilities," Hamidi said. "Afghanistan can not have a better future if the way things are done are not changed."

Hamidi and the women she works with still face power shortages, the lack of clean water, rising corruption and danger from insurgents. None of that has stopped this Kandahar native, who says she looks forward to playing an even bigger role in the reconstruction of her homeland.