‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18)
When tragedy strikes her family, a young girl from Afghanistan has to leave home and take a job doing hard manual labour. When she is finally able to return, her family force her into marriage. These experiences leave her feeling helpless and afraid, but the love and support of the women in her community have taken her to a new level.
Saba* was just three years old when her father died suddenly, leaving her and her mother Aadela* penniless. With nobody to provide for them, the pair moved to Iran to live with her uncle’s family.
Things didn’t get any easier: ‘My mother and I had a very difficult life without a father. We were weaving carpets to make some income for my education,’ Saba tells us. ‘I was eager to go to school, but I couldn’t because I was weaving carpets from morning to evening.’
After 15 long years living in Iran, Saba and Aadela decided the time had come to move back to Afghanistan. They hoped life would be better in their homeland. Sadly, they were wrong.
‘One of my uncles forced my mother to marry one of his sons, and also forced me to marry another son,’ recalls Saba. ‘I was very afraid that if I did not marry my uncle’s son they would separate me from my mother. I didn't have a choice – my mother was all I had.’
However, things began to change for the better when Saba learnt about a self-help group meeting in her aunt’s house.
The group was established with help from one of Tearfund’s partners. In it, women help each other find solutions to their problems, saving small amounts of money to then lend to one another to cover unseen costs or even start small businesses.
Her aunt was the group’s representative, and Saba soon joined and took on the responsibility of bookkeeping for the women. Eventually, she also helped with leading the group. She admits that in the early days she was hampered by fear:
‘It was very difficult for me,’ says Saba. ‘At first, I felt shy and afraid, but the women in the group helped me and encouraged me. I began to feel more confident, and eventually I was able to run the group very well.’
Through the self-help group, Saba was able to take out a loan, which she spent on furthering her education. With the group’s support and encouragement, Saba then took another loan to purchase women’s basic underwear to sell to the women in her community, who struggled to access these essential items.
The next level
Of course, building a small business from scratch seemed like a daunting prospect in the beginning. ‘At first it seemed very difficult, since I did not have experience in running something like this, but I tried to be strong and saw the results of my work,’ shares Saba.
Through her hard work, the opportunity soon came to grow her business and take things to the next level: ‘After I finished paying back my loan, I took another loan from the group. I bought more quantities than the first time and I sold it all to neighbours and group members. I saw how well it went, so I thought, “why not start a shop?”’
Saba continued her studies in the mornings, and then opened her shop in the afternoon. However, she initially struggled to build up her client base, until she came up with a solution:
‘I talked with a lady who was a tailor and a member of the group. I told her to come and sit in my shop and sew her clothes there, so I also learned tailoring from her. We continued our businesses like this with the help of each other.’
Satisfied and happy
Twenty-two year old Saba has come a long way since she joined the self-help group as a frightened teenager. Knowing how much the group supported her, she is now using her success to not only support her family, but to help other women in her community.
‘I am very satisfied and happy with the group. I am supporting myself and family with the income of my shop. I also help my group members to sell their handicrafts – things like pickles, fruit jam and embroidery, which I display in my shop.’
Thankfully, Saba’s early days as a bereaved young girl weaving carpets in Iran are well behind her. ‘I finished my lessons and graduated from school. I now have a baby boy who is 10 months old. He is very sweet – I love my child a lot!’
‘I also did the required exam in order to get into higher education. Hopefully I will be able to continue to a degree soon, after my son gets older.’
With Tearfund’s help, self-help groups are empowering communities, enabling people like Saba to step out of fear into a future that’s brighter than they ever believed possible.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
- Lift up the nation of Afghanistan, which has recently been affected by a new wave of sectarian violence. Pray for peace and reconciliation amongst its peoples.
- Thank God for the transformation in Saba’s life and pray that she will continue to grow in His love.
- Pray that God will continue to bless the work of our partners in Afghanistan, and that our staff will be kept safe.