Malalai in Oxfam-supported bakery. Credit: Zahra Akkerhuys/Oxfam

Improving women's lives in rural Afghanistan

“I feel my experiences help me to better understand the people I am now working to help.”
Malalai Momand
Social organizer for Oxfam in Shar-i-Buzurg

Malalai Momand works with Oxfam to help some of the poorest people living in rural Afghanistan. Malalai, aged 34, is based in Oxfam's field office in Kordakhan, a tiny village in the district of Shar-i-Buzurg, Badakhshan province. Here she talks about her life and her work.

"I came here from Kunduz, a city about 200 kilometers away from here. My husband is sick and cannot really work. He runs a small store selling wheat and flour but I have to earn money for the family. Kunduz is not safe and I felt threatened when I was working there so I applied for this job. I had never been to Badakhshan before I started working here a year ago.

This office is very remote but I don't care. What's important to me is my work.

I am a social organizer which means I work with the women in the villages here in Shar-i-Buzurg to help make their lives better. Some of the people living here are very poor. I see the realities of their lives and in some ways I feel like a messenger - I go to communities and then report back what they need. We then work to find the best way to help.

I have lots of freedom in my job. We have recently helped a group of women set up a bakery in this village to help them earn a living; in other villages, we distribute seeds and help people create kitchen gardens so they can grow fresh vegetables for the family. We have also helped provide clean water to people living in 75 villages. Every day I can see that we're helping people.

"Afghan women are a lot of fun"

This is a great job and I have made a lot of friends through my work. Afghan women are a lot of fun. I live up here in the Oxfam office with the rest of our team (about eight people) and my 14-year-old son Millott. It's unusual for a woman to live away from home but I have my son Millad with me. He is my muhram, escort. I have seven other children but they are with my husband in Kunduz. Of course I miss them a lot but every three months I return home to see them.

Life in Kunduz was not easy. Under the Taliban, things were really tough. I could not work and there were no jobs at the time for my husband. We didn't even have money for flour to make bread.

I used to give the little food we had to my children and I often would not eat. I remember after the birth of one of my children, we had so little food that I did not have anything to eat for 15 days. Our neighbours were better off than we were; sometimes my children used to ask me why they had food to eat but we didn't - it was heartbreaking, but I had no answer.

Things are different now but I feel my experiences help me to better understand the people I am now working to help.

Harsh winters

The scenery all around here is very beautiful and visitors find it very pretty but I don't really notice it anymore; when you are working hard there's no time to look around you. My favourite time of the year is the springtime as I like the wildflowers - especially the red wild tulips. During the summertime I and the team care for the Oxfam kitchen garden. It's hard to find vegetables in the markets around here so we grow all sorts of produce - courgettes, squash and cabbages. I also grow roses and marigolds.

Winter up here can get very bleak. One day last winter, I was working in Sah Dasht (it's about a three hour drive from the office) and it started snowing - it snowed for eight days solidly. I was marooned in the village; in the end one of the Oxfam guards and my son Millad rode a horse through the blizzards and came to get me. We walked for 12 hours solid in thick snow - and freezing. I often ride the horses during the wintertime - there's no other way to get around.

Even when it's not snowy, the roads here are so bad - and often there are no roads at all. I find this the most frustrating thing about my work. It slows me down when I want to do more..."

Read more

Blog by Zahra Akkerhuys: My journey through Afghanistan – Day 1

The Cost of War: Afghan Experiences, in pictures

Join the petition: Afghanistan – People First

Oxfam's work in Afghanistan