Zehra’s Season for Success

In Marudo Kharmang, Pakistan, Zehra has long appreciated the sweet taste and economic potential of the simple apricot. And yet, she struggled to raise consistent harvests and make the business viable and reliable. But she wasn’t ready to give up.

Central Asia Institute’s apricot program began with the goal of finding women like Zehra—already invested in the apricot sector but looking for the support to help them transform their skills into a viable business. Joining the program provided Zehra and her cohort with valuable agricultural training and skills, business training, and sessions on how to take the next step.

women working on their apricot business

From simple apricots to dehydrated fruit, jam, and more, Zehra and her group learned how they could add value to their fruit. Since joining the program only a year ago, Zehra has seen her income grow from $136 per harvest to $438, a life-changing increase. And for Zehra, this is only the beginning. She plans to invest more time, effort, and training to keep her business going strong long into the future.

Read more about the early results from our apricot program and the difference it is making in women’s lives.

Apricots on tree branch

Golden Harvest: Apricot Innovation in Baltistan

Wajmah forges her own path in Afghanistan

“I couldn’t write or read until last year, not even a single word,” shared 16-year-old Wajmah. As a girl in rural Afghanistan, Wajmah had been unable to attend school at all during her childhood. In addition to the geographic constraints of distant schools, and the restrictive policies of the Taliban, Wajmah had suffered an early loss. At 7 years old, her father passed away, and her mother was unable to afford school supplies, even if she had been able to get there.

But when CAI’s Accelerated Learning Center opened, affording basic education to those who had missed out on their primary school years, Wajmah started on a new path.

Woman in classroom

“Now I can read and write, not just my name, but even a few paragraphs.” And her efforts have borne impressive results on exams, scoring 90% in her first semester and 100% in her second semester.

Wajmah dreams of becoming a lawyer. Despite the oppressive Taliban regime, she is not giving up hope of a brighter future. And we are not giving up either. Read more about the work we’re doing to support girls’ education in Afghanistan.

Zarafshon’s Future Looks Delicious

ZafrahsonAt 49 years old, Zarafshan has experienced significant strife in her home country of Tajikistan. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, civil war broke out between the Gorno-Badakhshan region where she lives and the rest of the country. While peace was reached, the local population remains marginalized and government services are scarce, compounding poverty.

There were many times when circumstances could have overwhelmed her. And yet throughout this, she managed to get an education, get married, and raise three beautiful children. But it was often difficult as she and her husband faced chronic unemployment.

For Zarafshon, a training offered by Central Asia Institute – Tajikistan was the start of her journey to stability. After attending an initial financial literacy training, Zarafshon joined the inaugural class of the ASPIRE women’s entrepreneurship program, launched by CAI-Tajikistan in 2019. She utilized the knowledge she attained in the training and her cooking skills to start a small business.

Today, nearly three years later, her business is thriving. She bakes, on average, 80 kulcha (mini bread loaves), each day, earning a $30 daily profit. And her family has joined in on the venture. Her oldest son helped her write a World Bank grant application, which they won, awarding them $1,500 for additional equipment. This women’s month, we’re proud to celebrate Zarafshon and her perseverance to take a chance and believe in herself!

Zafrahson working in her bakery

This International Women’s Month, Join CAI in Celebrating the Women and Girls of Central Asia

Throughout the month of March, Central Asia Institute is celebrating all the incredibly inspiring and dedicated women and girls of Central Asia. But to fully understand the extraordinary things they are achieving each day, it’s important to first understand the enormity of the challenges they face. 

Imagine for a moment being a girl in Afghanistan today, a country often ranked as the worst country in the world to be a woman. If you are lucky enough to be among the minority of children enrolled in school, you will be banned from studying beyond Grade Six because you are a girl. By the time you are 16, there is a good chance you will have been forced into early marriage to a man far your senior and not of your choice. Most likely you will have little to no control over how often you get pregnant. And the likelihood that you’ll die in childbirth is among the highest in the world. You’ll face high rates of violence and will be denied access to healthcare, work, and freedom of movement.

girl sitting on floor

For females born in the remote, impoverished regions of Pakistan, the situation is not a whole lot brighter. Less than half of girls attend school and for those who do, an estimated 80% are forced to drop out before high school. As a woman in neighboring Tajikistan, you’ll have few employment opportunities, and if you do have a job, your income will be far below that of men, offering little hope for pursuing your dreams or helping to lift your family out of poverty.

But amazingly, the girls and women of Central Asia overcome these dark forces every day. We’d like you to meet a few of them.

Zehra’s Season for Success

Zarafshon’s Future Looks Delicious

None of these programs would have been possible without the unwavering and generous support of CAI’s donors. This women’s month, we also celebrate them for believing in the women and girls of Central Asia throughout the year. They are proof that when we reach across cultural and geographic divides to support each other, we can start to shift the norms and expectations in regions where women have been systematically excluded from so many parts of society. Together, we can clear the way for women like Wajmah, Zehra, and Zarafshon to blaze new trails for themselves and the next generation of women.



Sign up to receive updates and stories from the field.

Privacy Statement | Copyright 2024 Central Asia Institute. All rights reserved.  Site Map
CAI is a U.S.-registered nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, EIN #51-0376237. Contributions are tax-deductible in the U.S.