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Berkeley Springs store funds Afghan humanitarian work

December 26, 2007|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. ? While many people are caught up in buying presents for loved ones and not thinking about where the sale proceeds go, there's a new store in town that does.

The Valley Caravan Gallery, a new business on U.S. 522 South, uses its profits to support those who have suffered the most in war-torn Afghanistan - women and children.

Store owner Fahima Vorgetts opened Valley Caravan Gallery a few weeks ago. She is a new member of the community and moved from Annapolis, where she had a store for about 13 years.

Vorgetts was born in Afghanistan and left the country in her early 20s. She lived in Europe before moving to the United States in 1990.

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Vorgetts said that since she was 10 years old and living in Afghanistan, she was an advocate for women, "but my work would still be going on (for oppressed women) all over the world," she said.

Fundamentalists reduce women's rights

Between 1964 and 1992, Afghan women had more rights in the cities and their rights were improving, she said, but after 1992, fundamentalists came into power and women's rights were reduced. When the Taliban came into power, women suffered even more, she said.

"The Afghan women are the most deprived women. They suffered the most. In war, women are always attacked, and they get it the worst," Vorgetts said.

Vorgetts is the director of Women for Afghan Women, which operates under the Afghan Women's Fund. She travels to Afghanistan about three times a year to visit rural communities to help rebuild lives in the embattled country.

She feels safe in those rural areas and "people protect me," she said.

'I have dedicated my life to this'

She said she raised about $500,000 last year and more than $200,000 this year. She contributes the profits from her store, and she makes speeches throughout the country, mainly to colleges, universities and churches, seeking donations for Afghan projects.

"I have dedicated my life to this," Vorgetts said. "I speak from my heart."

The projects are "whatever benefits them the most," such as digging new wells for drinking water and crop irrigation, building three 20-classroom schools for girls and providing literacy classes for women.

Two medical clinics were built in rural areas, and in Herat, a burn ward was established for women who suffered from self-immolation. For the past three years a medical team has been paid to care for these women through the Afghan Women's Fund.

Two shelters for women and children have been set up with family guidance centers, she said, and legal assistance is now provided for women imprisoned for running away from abusive husbands or families.

Programs help women to help themselves

Vocational training is being taught through female co-ops, Vorgetts said, where women can attend literacy classes and choose something they like such as sewing, jewelry making or canning.

The fund then provides the necessary tools such as sewing machines and fabric, for example, so the women can make clothing and earn an income.

Goats and chickens were bought as a means for widows to support themselves through breeding, and milk and egg sales.

"We help with the small things," she said.

"Once they have their dignity restored and they are safe, their self-confidence will empower them," Vorgetts said.

Vorgetts said there are about 12 million women in Afghanistan, and "we are helping only a small percentage of those women."

Vorgetts recognized for her efforts

The Afghan Women's Fund also has an Orphan Sponsorship Program, through which as little as $50 a month will provide food, clothing, educational supplies and just about everything a child needs, Vorgetts said.

For more information, go to www.womenforafghanwomen.org.

Vorgetts has been recognized for her outstanding humanitarian efforts by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area and Anne Arundel County, Md.

Vorgetts said Valley Caravan, at 7440 Valley Road, features hand-knotted rugs from all over Asia, antiques, tapestries, furniture, exotic jewelry, shawls and handcrafted items from other countries. It is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number is 304-258-3221.




For more information about Women for Afghan Women, go to www.womenforafghanwomen.org.

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