A widow living in a cave finds her way out

In 1997, Sousan became a widow at 37 years old when her husband, Mohammad Hussain, died of cancer. Suddenly, the housewife, who was illiterate, became the default breadwinner, in charge of making a living for their four children: three girls, and one boy.

Sousan had to leave her birthplace, Dara Suf (a district of Bamyan province) and for 13 years, she and her children moved from province to province—Ghazni, Kabul, and Balkh—wherever she could find a decent source of income.

But as many Afghan widows experience, Sousan found it extremely difficult to obtain gainful employment, and all she could offer was domestic help, or farm hand services.

For such unskilled labor, she got paid very little money, which by no means was enough to feed her four children. Inevitably, they spent a significant part of their childhood working, begging on the streets to survive.

Eventually, Sousan and her children returned to Bamyan and without any place to live in, they set up residence in one of the caves near the Buddha sites in Bamyan that the Taliban exploded during their reign.

“I remember how people used to change direction when they saw me on the streets, fearing I might ask them for something,” said Sousan.

In 2010, Sousan was selected to participate in the TUP pilot in Bamyan, which offered a package of unconditional assistance for 36 months to 400 women classified as ultra-poor.

Three years later, the widow living in a cave moved out for good and into a proper house she had recently built for her family on her income.

Since graduating from TUP, she has established two regular sources of income, which enabled her to build

the house, purchase mobile phones for herself and her son, as well as a sewing/tailoring machine.

One source of income is growing livestock and selling dairy products, which pays her more than AFN 2,000 (US$40) per month.

Since graduating from TUP, Sousan has managed to expand this business, raising the number of livestock she owns to eight: six sheep and two goats.

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The expanded business has allowed her to save on household consumption costs because it provides for her family’s dairy product consumption, as well as their fuel needs throughout the year, which they obtain from recycling livestock waste—a skill she learned during her TUP participation.

A second source of income for Sousan’s family is her business of supplying water to hilltop houses. She started in her own village Sang Chasban, where access to water is quite challenging.

Her simple business idea has worked well. She bought a donkey to transport water to at least four households in the village.

And now, in addition to her income from livestock rearing, she earns at least AFN 3,600 (US$70) per month, supplying water.  The widow hopes to expand this business, as well, to other households and villages.

Sousan’s children also benefited from her participation in TUP. Her only son, Mohammad Ali,

16 years old, is going to school instead of working.

Prior to project support, he used to work with someone who was in business of making and selling bolani (Afghan bread made of flour, potatoes, or vegetables).  But Ali is now in school, as well as his two younger sisters, Khadija and Bas Gul, while her eldest daughter is married.

Once an isolated woman, living in a cave, Sousan is now respected by everyone in her village and even beyond.

People are no longer avoiding her when they cross paths with her. Instead, neighbors working in nearby farms invite her to social events and offer her free feed for her livestock.

Sousan trusts her capabilities now more than ever and is certain about a few things in life: that she has the means to sustain her livelihoods and the welfare and education of her children; and that her family will never live in a cave again.

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