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News From Rubia

Rubia 2010 Afghanistan Calendar on sale now $6 postpaid
Rubia’s 2010 Afghanistan calendar features photographs of children and messages reflecting our mission that education and economic empowerment are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and rebuilding Afghanistan. The calendar, designed by Beth Gottschling, showcases Rubia embroidery, and photographs by Beth Gottschling, Rachel Lehr, and Mustafa Kia. All proceeds from the sale of calendars support Rubia's work in Afghanistan.

Rubia and SERRV: a partnership to fight poverty

SERRV, a fair trade nonprofit organization, has selected Rubia as their first Afghanistan partner. By purchasing and selling the crafts and foods of low-income artisans and farmers around the world SERRV helps eradicate poverty wherever it resides. This partnership will enable our Afghan sister organization, RODA, to sell their products directly to SERRV. Rubia, Inc, in the US, will continue to facilitate the partnership, assisting with design and communication. Please visit HERE to learn more about SERRV and to purchase our Natural Kabul bag directly.

Earthquake relief delayed in a politically charged environment

On April 17, 2009 an earthquake registering a magnitude of 5.5 struck Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, Rubia’s home region. The quake that caused this disaster left 9,523 people homeless. Schools, homes and mosques not destroyed by the initial quake were damaged by the aftershocks. In response to this disaster Rubia and the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation raised funds to help the villagers rebuild their lives. Through the combined networks of our generous supporters we raised nearly $12,000. The evaluation of need and disbursement of funds was conducted by the Afghan NGO WADAN. The following is an excerpt from the WADAN report:

When the research to determine and best serve the neediest victims of the earthquake was completed and a list compiled, Afghanistan was well into its presidential campaign activities in August. Plans for dispersal were put on hold until an occasion to dispel suspicion that aid might be interpreted as politically motivated bribes. Unfortunately, the security situation continued to slip as insurgent activities surged around the area damaged by the quake. At the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, the celebration of Eid provided a timely and culturally appropriate occasion to remember the poor and suffering. Due to the general security situation and the portability of cash over goods requiring transportation and guards along a risky route, it was decided that the earthquake aid funds would be dispersed in Afghanis, as cash. Additionally, three wells were dug to provide water where sources had been disturbed by the earthquake, and roads were repaired in the region. Funds ranging from $80 to $200 were distributed to nearly 250 families, and $8000 went to dig new wells and to repair roads. People were thankful for the generosity that made their Eid happy and helped to repair the damage the quake made on their lives and their homes.

The Power of Partnership: Rubia and dreamfly join hands

Rubia has entered into an exciting new partnership with dreamfly, a unique international development and funding organization which describes itself as ‘an initiative to change the world by having communities in conflict co-invest in each other’s success by providing children of these communities with opportunities to build a better future for their countries.’ dreamfly was founded by two friends, Umaimah Mendhro and Mona Akmal, both originally from Pakistan. These two women share a passion for working with local communities and reputable organizations all over the world on initiatives that focus on building long-term, sustainable opportunities for local communities to take their future in their own hands. Microsoft Corporation, where both Mona and Umaimah currently work, matches every dollar donated by its employees to dreamfly’s initiatives supported through US based 501c3 organizations, now including Rubia in Afghanistan.

dreamfly’s first project, a rural school in Pakistan, opened in 2008 and now has 130 young children as students. dreamfly raised $150,000 for this project from everyday citizens of the Unites States, and in the process, established a communications bridge between dreamfly’s supporters in the US and children and families in Pakistan. Following a trip to Afghanistan in May 2009, dreamfly was determined to help empower the children and families in Afghanistan to create a better future for themselves. After learning about Rubia’s work there, Umaimah and Mona contacted Executive Director Rachel Lehr and Board President Catherine Rielly to explore a possible partnership. Because Rubia and dreamfly share common values, they decided to join hands and have now entered into a formal agreement in order to have a greater impact than either organization would otherwise be able to achieve on their own in Afghanistan.

dreamfly is already raising funds to start a primary school in Jalalabad with plans to launch in Spring/Summer 2010. Their goal is to create a safe learning environment for 100 children with free access to high quality education with a special focus on hygiene, civics, art & craft, and skills that will ultimately help them break the cycle of poverty and rebuild their country. Seeking to build on Rubia’s work already underway in Afghanistan, dreamfly’s project also includes creating a craft center for the mothers of the children who will be attending the school. The craft center will train women in sewing and embroidery skills, supporting economic empowerment and creating a sustainable model for running the school. Rubia will be responsible for on-the-ground execution and will handle all donations. This includes renting a school building, recruiting teachers and managing the day-to-day operations for the school and craft center.

Meanwhile, Umaimah and Mona are working to mobilize donors, volunteers and partners, who share their vision. They have already raised $15,000 toward their goal of $120,000. To learn more about dreamfly’s long term plans for Afghanistan and for information on how you can donate to help multiply funding for Rubia go to:
http://www.thedreamfly.org/DreamflyAfghanistan.html

Letter from the Executive Director

Thanks to our new status as a 501c3 non-profit, two new partnerships, and a growing pool of valuable volunteers, Rubia is finishing up 2009 a much stronger organization with widening recognition of our work. New doors have opened to greater opportunities that we are pleased to share with you here.

In the past six months, we have entered two partnerships that will create income and education for women and children. Firstly, we are embarking with dreamfly, a Seattle-based education initiative, to establish a primary school and women’s craft center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Mona Akmal and Umaimah Mendhro, dreamfly’s founders, have impressed us with their focus and accomplishments. We’re confident that our combined expertise will make the school and center a powerful force for fighting poverty and empowering women.

Secondly, Rubia has been selected by SERRV, a nonprofit fair trade organization, to be their first Afghan partner. This partnership will raise Rubia’s profile and expand sales of our women’s handwork through their network of stores and web promotion.

Meanwhile, Rubia’s Sewing Confidence program has brought us into contact with new communities in the United States. This venture began as a way to train Burundian refugees in Manchester, NH in fine tailoring skills. The women are already taking orders from local shops and beginning to develop their own businesses. This project provides an opportunity to develop programs for Afghanistan, while simultaneously applying lessons learned in Afghanistan, here. Our supporters have donated many materials for sewing and machines for the women, clearly a sign that this initiative reaches their hearts. Sewing Confidence also includes an English-language literacy component and is attracting the attention of many new refugees from Iraq to Bhutan, who are asking to join classes.

Growing public awareness of the war in Afghanistan has provided new opportunities for Rubia to participate in dialogue on the issues. As educators and public speakers in the US, we have addressed numerous audiences interested in learning more about the history of Afghanistan and the background of the current conflict. The situation is complicated and we believe that there are no simple solutions. Rubia’s role is to stay close to the ground, providing income and services to the least accessible and most marginalized population- rural women. Our deep community roots make our small organization unique.

Despite the positive developments of the past six months, there have also been deep sorrows. We have shared the hardships resulting from April’s earthquake in Afghanistan, and in September, endured the tragic loss of a good friend with the sudden passing of Rosemary Stasek. In Kabul, Rosemary cheerfully accepted the many packages full of embroidery and knitting supplies that supporters of her charity, A Little Help, sent to Afghanistan. She introduced Rubia to the teachers and students at the Kabul School for the Blind, where we began a knitting project, culminating in an ‘Afghans by Afghans’ sale to the international community. Rosemary became a personal friend, and fellow traveler. Memories of Rosemary – her confidence and radiant face – will help carry us forward to achieve our mission.

The year cannot close without taking this opportunity to thank WADAN, an Afghan NGO that works to fight drug addiction, promotes social justice and civic education and without whom, we would not be able to accomplish our goals in Afghanistan. We will be working closely with WADAN in the coming year to launch the dreamfly initiative in Jalalabad. Operating under their umbrella provides project collaboration, office support, housing, and friendship.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the ongoing assistance of the attorneys at WilmerHale, who have provided valuable advice in many areas. Our special thanks to Margaret Gerety and Amy Segal, who shepherded our application for non-profit designation.

The year has brought us much for which to be thankful – especially for supporters like you through purchases of Rubia products, your tax-deductible donations, and through word of mouth, spreading the news about Rubia’s work to help the women and children of Afghanistan. We depend on the support of individuals and foundations to make our mission work and we thank you.

Wishing you peace,
Rachel

Promoting Community Dialogue on Afghanistan

Rubia’s participation in several public events during September and October raised awareness about the struggles and successes in the daily lives of Afghan women and simultaneously helped promote on-going dialogue about the US war in Afghanistan, now entering its eighth year.

On September 16th at the Red River Theatre in Concord, New Hampshire, Rubia’s founder and Executive Director, Rachel Lehr, along with Dr. Jennifer Fluri, Vice-President of Rubia’s Board of Directors and Assistant Professor of Geography and Women and Gender Studies at Dartmouth College, participated in a panel discussion following a screening of ‘Rethink Afghanistan.’ This powerful documentary by noted film maker Robert Greenwald addresses the 2009 escalation of the war in Afghanistan, its human and economic costs, security implications for the United States, and the impact on Afghan women. Lehr and Fluri were accompanied on the panel by Dr. Thomas Lee, author of Battlebabble: Selling War in America, and Iraq war veteran Will Thomas, Executive Director of the NH Peace Action Network and Chairman of New Hampshire Veterans for Peace.

Taking questions from the audience following the screening, Lehr and Fluri shared stories from their extensive work in the villages of Afghanistan and underscored that, despite the deadly violence of the war Afghan women strive to maintain a sense of normalcy in daily life. While many questions from the audience spurred discussion about the war itself, Lehr emphasized Rubia’s role in supporting the economic and educational development of Afghan women.

In a separate set of community conversations about Afghanistan in October, a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) spoke to audiences in several locations in New England as well as New York, Washington DC, Iowa, Los Angeles, Berkley and San Francisco. Because RAWA is an underground Afghan women’s organization, members like ‘Zoya’ are fearful of being persecuted and, as such, appear publicly under a pseudonym. Speaking to an audience of about 40 people in Carpenter Hall on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, Zoya raised critical questions not only about the consequences of U.S. military and foreign policy, but also about the role of Afghanistan’s fledgling democratic institutions in helping to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Zoya’s tour of the United States was funded and facilitated by an international coalition of student and women’s rights and development organizations. Her appearance at Dartmouth was arranged as part of Rubia Vice-President Jennifer Fluri’s ongoing research on Afghanistan.

Wrapping up the month of October, Lehr and Fluri shared more insights from their experiences in both rural and urban Afghan homes and communities. In a presentation in Nottingham, New Hampshire, titled Rediscovering Afghanistan: Lessons from the Home, part of the New Hampshire Humanities Council ‘Humanities to Go’ program, the Rubia team used personal anecdotes, still photos, historical sources, material artifacts and ethnographies to illustrate their belief that Afghanistan’s hope for a peaceful future begins in the lives and homes of everyday Afghan women.

Growing Support for Rubia’s Community-Building Work with Immigrants in New Hampshire

Rubia’s fledgling Sewing Confidence program, designed to help empower recently resettled refugees and immigrants in New Hampshire, received new funding support in October with a grant from the Bridgebuilders Foundation whose objectives are to provide funding to small organizations that build relationships between diverse groups within communities. The $3,000 grant will support a new series of six day-long classes to a group of 12 Burundian women at the International Institute of NH.

Sewing Confidence was inspired by Rubia’s work in Afghanistan where its model for integrating education and economic development was formed. Rubia’s first series of Sewing Confidence classes in Manchester, New Hampshire combined functional literacy with machine sewing skills, helping the women participants build confidence as they became engaged in their new American community. The program also invites participation from the larger community through the volunteer initiative and in conjunction with the Community Economic Development Program at Southern New Hampshire University. A grant from the Women’s Fund of New Hampshire enabled Rubia to launch Sewing Confidence in the spring of 2009. Students in the program learned to sew products that can be sold at local retail stores, farmers and cooperative markets, cultural festivals and craft fairs. Eventually, as skills of the program’s participants develop, Sewing Confidence will incorporate Rubia’s embroideries from Afghanistan into items for sale in the U.S.

In the meantime, students in Sewing Confidence learn effective skills for beginning their own enterprise. In addition to marketing and product design, women learn the basics of micro-financing and budgeting. They may choose to start a home business to supplement their family’s income, they may go on to higher education, or to jobs where their new skills enable them to function more efficiently, or to possibly rise to management positions. Some women may also simply decide to sew for their families and friends and enrich their lives with their literacy and language skills. Regardless of their choices, women in the Sewing Confidence Program emerge with skills that give them the capacity to more fully engage in their new community.

Rubia continues to seek partnership with local businesses, nonprofits and foundations to build a strong, sustainable program for New Hampshire’s newest residents and aims for Sewing Confidence to become fully established in Manchester and eventually expand to other New Hampshire towns that host resettled refugees, including Concord and Laconia.

New Hampshire Humanities Council Provides Planning Funds for Whole Cloth NH

Whole ClothNH, a new Rubia project designed to forge bonds between New Hampshire’s diverse communities by focusing on native fabrics and garments has been awarded a planning grant by the NHHC. The $4,000 grant will enable Rubia to coordinate with partners in Manchester and other NH communities to plan a series of Whole ClothNH events and exhibitions in cities throughout the state in 2010 and 2011.

The community collaborative project, conceptualized by Susan Bartlett, a literacy specialist in Rubia’s Sewing Confidence program, is intended to bring together new immigrants and longtime residents in planning and designing classes, workshops, forums and eventually a travelling exhibit highlighting native dress. The NHHC project proposal emphasizes personal narrative and common human themes embedded in the immigrant experience as revealed by native fabrics and dressing traditions. One goal of the project is to help give voice to community responses and a chance to reflect on cultural changes. Once implemented, Whole Cloth NH will offer opportunities throughout the state for an examination of clothing as symbolic of the cultural values and experiences brought to the United States by new immigrants.

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