Reaching out to women of Afghanistan

Future: An Annapolis shopkeeper will talk about her work helping the people of her native country recover from years of war.

November 30, 2003|By Stephanie Tracy | Stephanie Tracy,SUN STAFF

Fahima Vorgetts returned from her most recent trip to Afghanistan with a powerful message - don't forget.

She traveled to Afghanistan for five weeks during August and September, the latest in a series of trips she's made on behalf of the Afghan Women's Fund since January of last year to bring supplies and financial aid to women and children in the country.

"We cannot forget Afghanistan," Vorgetts said. "We told them we wouldn't forget them again after Sept. 11, and it seems we've forgotten anyway. If we don't remember Afghanistan, we'll never have security here in this country."

Vorgetts, 48, an Annapolis business owner and the fund's director, will share with the public the experiences of her most recent trip with a presentation at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Eastport United Methodist Church.

Vorgetts left Afghanistan in 1979 after a Soviet-backed communist government took over the country. In the mid-1970s, her father, a moderate Muslim leader, was assassinated. She came to the United States in 1983 and became a U.S. citizen in 1997. She has owned and operated Aaryana Imports on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis for 3 1/2 years.

Surrounded by piles of imported rugs and fine jewelry in her shop, Vorgetts' polite business manner belies her passionate desire for peace and justice in her native country. Her office space consists of a computer behind the sales counter, and she speaks of the plight of Afghan women and children as customers come and go.

In the nearly two years since her first trip back to Afghanistan, Vorgetts has helped establish vocational programs and literacy classes in the country and in refugee camps in Pakistan with assistance from the Afghan Women's Fund. The fund has also helped pay for construction projects in needy communities.

The Afghan Women's Fund, which operates under the umbrella of Women for Afghan Women, supports numerous grassroots organizations and volunteer groups in the central Asian country. Vorgetts said her success in starting the vocational and educational classes comes from working independent of the Afghan government. She said most of her work is done in safer areas of the country where she can interact directly with people.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, United States and coalition forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban regime, women were required to wear head-to-toe burkas and were refused an education. Warlords and fundamentalist groups terrorized citizens.

"After 24 years of war, Afghanistan is still a country at war," Vorgetts said Friday. "The situation really hasn't changed much. Security is still a big problem, with the constant threat of violence from warlords and fundamentalists. A lot of aid agencies are leaving the country for security reasons."

During the late summer trip, Vorgetts distributed 41 sewing machines to sewing classes, provided 15 chickens apiece to 53 widows in an impoverished province in Northern Afghanistan, and delivered computers for new classes for women and girls.

Many of the vocational and educational programs for women are coordinated and run by humanitarian groups in Afghanistan, with some funding from groups such as the Afghan Women's Fund. Two more sewing classes, an additional embroidery class and six new literacy classes began during Vorgetts' visit. In a camp for displaced persons in Kandahar, Vorgetts helped open a new school that will accommodate 1,500 children, expanded two other schools, paid teachers' salaries and delivered school supplies.

Vorgetts and other volunteers also provided funding and equipment to repair wells and build a shower facility for women and children in a refugee camp.

And the Afghan Women's Fund also provided financial assistance to small businesses that employ women, and gave money to a young girl suffering from scleroderma to apply for a passport to travel to the United States for medical treatment.

Most of the supplies and equipment Vorgetts delivered to Afghanistan were donated by area residents. She hopes to ship more computers, microscopes and hospital supplies to the country.

Vorgetts funds most of her travels to Afghanistan herself, and hopes to return early next year with another shipment of supplies. In addition to donations of supplies and money from the public, Vorgetts planned to donate a large portion of the profits from her import business in Annapolis to the Afghan Women's Fund.

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