Uptight? Try Running a Print Shop in Kabul --Michelson
WE MOAN and groan about how our stock portfolios and 401(k)s have taken a beating due to the near-collapse of the U.S. financial system. About cutting back on holiday gift giving expenditures due to job insecurity. About customers tightening their belts, and their marketing budgets. But, in the true holiday spirit, why not consider, instead, our many blessings in comparison to those around the world less fortunate and who face even bigger obstacles in making a living? Take Parwana Wafa, who operates Afghan Women Entrepreneur Printing Services (AWEPS) in Kabul. The only female commercial printer in all of Afghanistan, half of her 49 employees are also women—many of them widows who provide the sole support for all of their family members in this war-torn country. Today, with major clients in Kabul such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Women Affairs, the Asia Foundation and several UN agencies, Wafa had no background in printing when she launched AWEPS in 2005. Her mission was to help impoverished Afghan women earn wages for their families, learn a skill and become self-sufficient. With antiquated (third-, not second-, hand) equipment, AWEPS prints newsletters, brochures, letterhead, etc., on a two-color press.
With only two hours of electricity per day in Kabul, her company relies on its three generators to keep its single press running. Once a week, Wafa (always accompanied by a male, as is mandated in Islamic society) rents a van or truck to make the 10-hour trek to Pakistan just to buy paper. All folding and collating work, even for print runs of 10,000 to 20,000, is done by hand due to the shop’s lack of any finishing equipment. As a result, larger jobs may take weeks to complete. Living in a society where female entrepreneurship and business acumen are largely frowned upon, stones have been thrown through her print shop’s windows and bombs have been left outside the front door. Unable to go anywhere alone, Wafa’s brother comes and drives her home if she works late. The business owner can’t take for granted she’ll even get home to her three children safely.