Six Jawana students in Kabul found an innovative way to help disadvantaged women start businesses at home to provide income and boost self-esteem: Growing mushrooms.
The idea made a big difference for thirty-four-year old Zubaida. Two of her five sons were killed in Kabul suicide bombings. Before their deaths, they co
llected plastic bags to support the family. Zubaida baked traditional Afghan bread—a backbreaking job that comes with burns, injuries, exhaustion and respiratory problems.
Today, with help from the Jawana team, Zubaida is running a mushroom-growing business in her home. “In my view being dependent on others is the main reason behind so many problems which women are facing today,” said team leader Afia Jahez, 28. “Having your own income is the starting point for managing your life properly.”
In December, Afia and her team completed the 12-week USAID-sponsored Jawana empowerment program designed to develop Afghanistan’s next generation of female leaders. The leadership classes specifically target literate, ambitious women with a high school or secondary degree to determine which candidate possesses the right mix of determination, intelligence and commitment to transform training into viable businesses, NGO start-ups or other careers.
Team members conducted a situational analysis of the food industry and found an increasing numbers of Afghans are substituting mushrooms for meat.
Then they located an expert who could teach them how to grow mushrooms. They also recorded his lessons so they could train other women. They pooled $200 of their own money and purchased materials to begin cultivation.
True to the Jawana philosophy of supporting other women, they found four widows supporting families and struggling financially. Zubaida was one.
Mushroom cultivation offers a good solution because it requires little time and effort. “Operators can grow the mushrooms within days, within the safety of their homes,” said Afia. Project members also worked on producing a sound business plan and developing a marketing strategy.
Team members have tested their product with shop-owners and now are ready to scale-up and begin production in earnest. “This class was more important than all of my university classes taken together,” said Afia. “Instead of only studying theory, we concentrated on real life and real problems.”