From refugee to business owner, Afghan entrepreneur creates jobs

By Michael Zamba

July 18, 2013

Nafas Bakhtanai helped design the curriculum to train new women housepainters. Her company will hire all 20 of them.

Each time Nafas Gul Bakhtanai, 52, has faced adversity, she has beat it. Forced to flee to Pakistan because of the Taliban, she labored in a Lahore shoe factory. After 12 years, she eagerly returned to Jalalabad—only to discover that jobs were scarce and her husband could not find work. Scraping together enough money to buy 14 kilos of wheat, the mother of seven made farina and sold it in the market to support the family.

Through tenacity and an entrepreneurial spirit, the hand-to-mouth existence is over. Today, Bakhtanai owns two small ventures and a third is on the way. Now she wanted to share her hard-won lessons with other women.

“The idea of helping my Afghan sisters came to my mind when I worked … in Lahore,” says Bakhtanai. “On my return, I was unhappy with the economic and social conditions Afghan women faced. I wanted to help them gain better skills to make them employable.”

Her idea is a reality. As the owner of the year-old painting company, Afghan Karyan, Bakhtanai was asked by Champion Technical Training Center (CTTC) to help design the curriculum to train women to become house painters. This CTTC training initiative is funded through the USAID-supported Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP), which increases employment and improves private training firms’ curriculum.

In close collaboration with CTTC, Bakhtanai’s company is enabling 20 women to gain skills in house painting, Venetian plastering, sponging and stencil painting. Bakhtanai will then hire all of the women.

“I have already received a promise for a painting contract. There are many government institutions that can provide contracts and an environment for women to work as painters without any concern [for their safety],” says Bakhtanai. “Painting is a lucrative profession; there is an interest and a need for this occupation.”

As in the CTTC program, AWDP grants to private training institutions to prepare employees and job seekers to meet the demand of employers in growing sectors. To date, USAID is supporting centers in six major cities that are training nearly 2,000 women, of which more than 200 have already secured jobs or promotions.

Bakhtanai considers her efforts to provide for her family and to assist other women as achieving three goals: “I am helping my people, I am respected in my community and these businesses are a source of income.”

This success story was recently featured on the USAID Afghanistan website.

With reporting by Aziz Gulbahari

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