Across Afghanistan, entrepreneurial and hardworking Afghans are launching new companies, providing business services, exporting traditional products, educating children and creating much-needed jobs as the economy recovers and grows after decades of conflict. Creative Associates International set out to highlight these successes in the “Afghanistan at Work” photo series that spotlights everyday Afghans—including teachers, bakers, technical professionals, returned refugees and many others—who are working to build a brighter future.

These beautiful images, which were taken during several assignments by photographer Jim Huylebroek for Creative, focus on work in urban, peri-urban and rural areas particularly in and around the provinces of Kabul, Herat and Balkh. They were unveiled at a July 2019 gallery exhibition at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The event was was co-sponsored by Creative,  the Embassy of Afghanistan, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce, and the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

View the photos below to see how Afghans are building a brighter, more resilient future one enterprise at a time. #AfghansAtWork

Rising Profits

When operating at peak production, this mid-sized bakery in Mazar-e Sharif has 80 employees who produce approximately 2 tons of delicious goods a day. Facing stiff competition from international imports and a desire to meet growing domestic demand, Almobashir Foods turned to the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program to train key staff in marketing and project management. In part because of the training, production is up at Almobashir Foods.

Afghan gems

Afghan gems
Ten years ago, Masoda Sherdell Kohistani apprenticed with one of Kabul’s finest jewelry designers. As her skills grew, so did her desire to cultivate the talents of other women. Today, her company, Lajaward Jewelry, has six women learning how to produce and sell finely crafted pieces with Afghan gems.

Locally sourced

In the hills overlooking Kabul, the crowded and busy life of the capital gives way to picturesque small farms. Two years ago, Zarifa Rezayee of Bushra Taranom Food tapped into the local agriculture supply to provide work for 15 women and men. Her successful company produces tomato paste, canned vegetables and other products that are sold throughout the province.

Smart startups

Startup Grind Afghanistan nurtures new entrepreneurs through training, mentoring and networking in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and elsewhere. Associated with Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Grind Afghanistan has helped hundreds of small businesses launch and grow. While many people were enjoying a weekend off, this group participated in an all-day seminar about branding and marketing.

Community co-op

A cooperative of 30 woman uses traditional, no-cook techniques to process freshly picked tomatoes into a puree-like product for sale in local markets. One of the final steps in the process strains the excess liquid from the tomatoes by placing the mashed products into a small, cotton bag. A woman gently pushes out the liquid, leaving the solid remains in the bag.

Sweet success

Shafiq Payam’s company, Tak, is transforming how northern Afghanistan cultivates and sells dried fruits and nuts in Afghanistan, China, Russia and the United States. Tak works with hundreds of growers to improve their quality, output and profits. His modern factory in Mazar-e Sharif employs more than 100 people, primarily women, to sort, clean and package the products.

Rebuilding his life

Mullah Zafar supervises a small team on a construction site on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif, a position that has earned him respect and a small income. Few people know about his past as a member of the Taliban. After fighting alongside the terrorist group, he laid down his arms and cooperated with the government. Today, his goal is to support his family and to be a productive member of society.

Pasta profits

In 2017, Roqia Hakimi needed to start a home-based business to generate income for her family. With a small amount of savings, she launched Khosha Noodle in the rural Dehdadi district of Balkh province. Khosha Noodle has grown to seven employees and sells packaged pasta to wholesalers and retailers throughout the province.

Garden of hope

A small co-op farm in Nahirishai district of Balkh province produces tomatoes to be sold in the market or processed into a no-cook puree. Many of the co-op’s 30 women are returned refugees or have been displaced by the war. Thanks to Hasina Mahboobi, an entrepreneurial, civic-minded woman who graduated from USAID-funded trainings, they share the work and income from the endeavor.

Cleaning up

Peshraft is a collaborative effort that shows residents in the Sarasyab district of Kabul province how to generate revenue from small plots of unproductive land. The company teaches women how to grow natural products such as flowers and transform them into soap, lip gloss and skin products. It has generated dozens of jobs.

High altitude tech

As Vice Group’s technology footprint expanded, its leadership discovered that they needed to increase managers’ skills. Fifty
employees enrolled in practical classes in marketing, project management and finance through the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program. This improved the company’s efficiency, opened promotion opportunities, improved staff morale and generated new jobs.

On the grid

Reliance Power’s factory on the outskirts of Kabul is an example of what Afghanistan hopes for future businesses—modern installations with skilled labor that can produce high-demand products and effectively compete with imports. Reliance, which has 60 full-time employees and 200 contractors, has room to grow. Its managers obtained practical skills through the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program.

Practical successes

USAID’s Afghanistan Workforce Development Program shifted technical and vocational training courses to meet the real needs of businesses, such as marketing, project management and even using Quick Books. The program provided nearly 38,000 people in seven cities with training that aligned with market demands, resulting in increased business efficiency, improved job opportunities and new employment.

Stretching beyond the limits

Fakhira Mumtaz learned yoga as a refugee living in Pakistan. When she returned to Kabul, she saw the need to offer Afghan women the physical and mental benefits of yoga. In 2015, Fakhira opened the first all-women yoga studio. It expanded thanks to training by the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program. The program trained nearly 36,000 Afghans through private sector centers, including more than 11,000 women.

Weaving success for women

Afghan rugs are unique for their knots, colors and patterns. Though it requires a great deal of skill, women weavers typically receive low wages. A nonprofit in Mazar-e Sharif sought to double wages and improve working conditions for the weavers. The USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program provided marketing, management and administration training to support this goal.

Small plots, big success

Marghouba Safi’s nonprofit is showing women outside of Kabul how to turn plots of unused land into small businesses and grow agricultural products that can be preserved and sold. The Women’s Development Center teaches them the basics, offers mentorship and opportunity to work outside the home. The Center has generated 400 jobs.

Co-ops for dairy farmers

Hundreds of families with small farms depend on a co-op run by the Balkh Livestock and Dairy Union. After 20 professionals completed trainings through the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, the dairy conducted consumer research that identified new sales opportunities, opened 50 new retail outlets and increased production. The benefits were passed along to the farmers and employees.

Preparing rugs

A behind-the-scenes look at the rug-weaving production process in Afghanistan. A worker in Mazar-e Sharif uses a blow torch to burn off the excess fibers in a hand-woven rug. As part of the process, the rugs are also scrubbed with soap and water, dried, folded and then shipped to markets around the world.

Supply chain fix

Large-scale manufacturers of hand-woven rugs often have problems obtaining enough materials, such as wool yarn, to scale up to meet the demands in competitive export markets. To overcome this challenge and support production schedules, some companies have begun to manufacture their own wool yarn. This facility now employs a dozen people.

Afghan dyes

Afghan rugs traditionally obtain their rich colors from vegetable dyes. The “Daulatabad” or Afghan rugs that are popular in the West are recognized for their vivid red and dark blue colors. For cultural reasons, some people prefer a natural color to a chemical dye. This man in Kabul is dying yarn by hand.

Expert orientation

Takdana Dry & Fresh Fruit Processing Co. processes and sells about 900 metric tons of product a year, including exports to India and the United Arab Emirates. With new orders, the company expects to increase production and employment in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. Takdana participated in the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program.

Reading techniques

A contemporary early grade reading curriculum, new textbooks and improved teacher training are benefiting nearly 600,000 students in four provinces of Afghanistan. More than 8,600 teachers use new early grade reading guides and participate in professional development training. The USAID-funded Afghan Children Read program is implemented in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.

Refugee to teacher

Amena Khavari was an Afghan refugee who came to Herat in 2003 as a young adult. She was shocked to see the deplorable educational system for girls and young women. Amena volunteered as a teacher, was later hired to be a school principal and then served as an education program coordinator in Herat province. Today, she is helping more children as a manager in the USAID-funded Afghan Children Read project, which focuses on students in first through third grades.

Mother’s helper

Handmade arts and clothing design are among the popular items produced by women at a small firm with a big heart in a rural area of Balkh province. In a basement workshop, about a dozen women make products that are sold across the region. They show each other techniques and trade ideas about design. The workshop provides a source of income—and camaraderie—for the women.