Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kabul Beauty School

By Deborah Rodriguez

Deborah Rodriguez was kind of a lost soul, not content with her life and searching for something more meaningful. This search eventually lead her to join a local church. Her involvement with the church led her into volunteer work and some specialized training and even trips overseas to places like India. Then, after 911 and the war in Afghanistan, she had the opportunity to join a group going to Afghanistan and she eagerly went along.
Most of the folks in her group were highly-skilled professionals such as health care workers. Deborah is also a highly-skilled professional, but not the sort you would think of as vital to a relief effort: she is a hair dresser, a beautician.
At first, she felt kind of useless as she watched the other volunteers performing their vital tasks. But it quickly became apparent that non-Afghanis working in the area really wanted and needed the services of a beautician. Soon she was doing hair cuts, manicures, dye jobs, and other services. And as she became more familiar with Afghan culture, she found out that beauty shops had been a vital and welcome part of female life in Afghanistan before the Taliban took over. Beauty shops were one of the few places where women could get together and also one of the few industries that provided jobs, income and independence for women in Afghanistan's male dominated and controlled culture.
After her stint as a volunteer and back home in the USA, Deborah decided she wanted to go back to Afghanistan and start a beauty school to train women and thus help bring back the beauty industry and provide women with jobs, money, and a measure of independence. She was able to get some sponsors and funds and returned there and soon had her school up and running. But it wasn't easy. The cultural differences were huge. Plus she didn't speak the language. And Afghanis look askance at single women, tending to label them as whores and prostitutes. Eventually, Deborah took a local man as her husband. It just makes life easier for a woman there to have a male protector. Together, they kept the school running, dealing with financial difficulties, cultural clashes, fundamentalist suspicions, and they gave many women a chance for a better life.

Deborah's story is really amazing. She took such a huge risk, plunging into a culture that is frankly hostile to women. She saw a need that she could fill and she didn't hesitate to step up and give her fellows a helping hand, even to the point of marrying into the culture. She actually fell in love with the people of Afghanistan, and even though she eventually was forced to leave because of the deteriorating security situation, she still has fond memories of her time there. And there is no doubt that she performed a much needed service for the women of Afghanistan.

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