Women in Action — Conversation with Rohina Samim
Founder, Hope for Afghan Women
Today I have the pleasure to speak to Rohina Samim, Founder of Hope for Afghan Women.
Rohina and I met almost by chance a couple of months ago here in Lausanne where we both live, and I was immediately captivated by Rohina’s personal story which is symbiotically linked to the story of her organization, Hope for Afghan Women. So, I Immediately thought that this story deserved to be shared with Women in Action’s followers and more generally.
Rohina grew up in Switzerland and in 2005 decided to return to her home country, Afghanistan, and there started a number of projects to help Afghan women gaining self-sufficiency and financial independence. Rohina has a background in banking and finance, and her knowledge of micro-credit/micro-financing schemes was critical for her to figure out that a simple sewing machine, or a food cart can work wonders.
As you know Women in Action is a not-for-profit initiative committed to empowering women and fostering gender equality by showcasing and amplifying female role models in business and political leadership.
GB: Rohina, thank you very much for accepting Women in Action’s invitation and for joining me for this conversation. How did you begin your work in support of Afghan women?
I consider myself as an Afghan migrant. My family migrated to Switzerland in 1979 during Soviet invasion. I grew up in Switzerland but I was always in touch with the challenges of Afghan women, and I knew one day I wanted to go back there and do something to participate to the reconstruction of my country. I have always been convinced that Afghanistan can be re-built only by Afghans. That has always been very clear in my mind.
One day I was watching a TV reportage on Afghan women. I saw a woman with a blue burka on the floor and a Talib with a gun executing her. It was a terrifying scene. I felt as if this woman was talking to me directly, as if she was saying “you can’t stay in your comfort zone and leave us in this hell”. This changed my life. I took the decision to look for a job in Afghanistan and I moved there in 2005, working for the Aga Khan Foundation. Later on, I managed to find the family of the woman that had been fatally shot by the Taliban, and I helped her children get access to a decent education. This is when I realized the importance of our presence in Afghanistan and the huge positive impact we can have.
GB: Let’s talk about Hope for Afghan Women. Your Association runs a number of different projects, some of which are truly innovative and different from what the other Associations do.
There are not many NGOs left in Afghanistan since the Taliban went to power again in 2021. Even before that, women in Afghanistan suffered from many challenges, but as everybody knows the situation has significantly worsened now.
Currently, Hope for Afghan Women runs a day centre in Kabul, welcoming 350 women and their children. Because of the Taliban regime, these women can no longer work. Many of them are widows. We offer them a safe space, we pay for their rents, and for food and medical assistance. We also assist them to become economically self-sufficient. Economic empowerment is central to realizing women’s rights and gender equality. We provide training on how to start an economic activity, and we help them at a very practical level, by providing sewing machines and mobile food stalls so that they can start running a small business. Whenever possible, we involve husbands or any close male relatives as well.
Our work in field is successful also because I spent 14 years working with Afghans in local rural and urban areas, my deep knowledge of the culture, religion, traditions and challenges that women are facing.
GB: You will soon host an event here in Lausanne, where you will present a small documentary about Hope for Afghan Women’s activities in Afghanistan.
We regularly organize events to support our activities. The next one will be on June 16 at Le Cazar, in Lausanne. During the evening, we will play a short documentary showing our day-to-day activities in Kaboul, and some of our achievements. For instance, thanks to our economic empowerment program, 30 women (which means 30 families, about 200 people in total) no longer receive any food support from our organization, because each family has started generating a revenue. It’s a small miracle that we want to share, also as a way to thank all those who have helped us by donating to our organization.
It will be a festive evening as well, with Afghan food specialities and the presence of Ali Etemadi, a known young Afghan musician! There will also be the possibility to buy Afghan handicraft objects such as textiles and jewels.
GB: How can the people that are reading us help Hope for Afghan Women?
Our organization lives out of donations that people make, and we are very grateful for all of them. Every donation, even the smallest one, counts. We use over 80 per cent of the donations we receive to fund emergency aids like food distribution, rent payments, children’s medical expenses, and for long-term reconstruction projects allowing the local population to recover from their tragic life and live independently again as quickly as possible. Our focus will continue to be to give to women a financial sustainable development goal that can be realizable. If you wish to donate, you can do that through our website https://hopeforafghanwomen.com. And for those based in Lausanne, make sure you register for the June 16 event! You can find all the information on our homepage.