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Afghanistan: Hope from honey

December 6, 2007 (Middle East): Both Sohaila Khan, 25, and Maa Begum, 50, lived in extreme poverty in northern Afghanistan. It was a constant struggle to feed themselves and their children. "There was no light at the end of the tunnel," says Sohaila.

Until July 2006.

"We didn't even have a small piece of land where we could grow food for ourselves," says Maa Begum (bottom picture). For years her eldest son tried in vain to provide for nine family members with a monthly income of merely 54 dollars. He was the only one who was lucky enough to be able to find a job.

A couple of months after Sohaila’s wedding, her husband, Ahmad Khan, was forced to leave her to look for work in Iran.

The two families were considered some of the poorest and most vulnerable in their villages. So when Mission East started the agriculture project in Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan, the local councils recommended Sohaila and Maa as participants.

So, in July 2006, together with 18 other poor women, they were provided with a beehive, protection gear and training in honey production.

In just one year the honey has turned their lives around.

"This year, because of the honey, I have earned enough to send my children to school. It is a miracle. I had given up hope of ever earning my own money and being able to provide for my children," says Sohaila. Maa proudly adds:

"We can now afford to buy uniforms and books and pay fees for our children to go to school. We can also afford food items and soap for washing our children."

Because of their own hard work Sohaila and Maa has been able to expand their production with more beehives. This year Sohaila harvested 87 kilos of honey. She sold 72 kilos at the local market and the money she earned pays for food, clothes and other necessities for her family.

She is truly grateful for the help and is now looking forward to the future:

"I wish to have five more beehives. And I want to help women in my village to support themselves – just as I have been helped."

There is a great demand for honey in Badakhshan in the northern Afghanistan where Maa and Sohaila lives. So great that the few beekeepers in the area can’t meet the demand. That leaves a good opportunity for more people to work their way out of poverty if they are taught how to produce honey.