Sweeping poverty under the rug | AspenTimes.com

Sweeping poverty under the rug

Photo courtesy Susan Christian

ASPEN Arzu means “hope” in the Dari language, and the 3-year-old nonprofit organization of the same name means jobs and opportunities for Afghan families in poverty.The Chicago-based Arzu will be selling rugs at the Aspen Square Hotel from Feb. 28 to March 3, with some proceeds going to Afghan women in need. The extra income, organizers say, will help educate the next generation in Afghanistan.Connie K. Duckworth, founder and president of Arzu, owns a home in Aspen. The first female managing partner at Goldman, Sachs & Co., Duckworth traveled to Afghanistan in 2003 as part of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, which President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai established. Duckworth gathered input from rug experts and opened the nonprofit after her trip.More than 80 percent of women in Afghanistan are illiterate. Just over half of children ages 7-13 go to school, and more than 75 percent of girls drop out before completing their secondary education, Arzu officials say.Duckworth is focusing on ways to empower women who, for generations, have had no access to education and no way to sustain themselves economically, according to Alyssa Rome, vice president of Arzu’s U.S. operations.”The business has just grown,” Rome said.

Participants – there are 250 Afghan families in the program now – sign a social contract stipulating that all children go to school and women enroll in literacy programs, Rome said. Arzu employs local monitors and advisors to ensure that families hold up their end of the agreement.

“They get 150 percent of their market value for the rugs,” Rome said.

The company provides materials, tools and traditional Afghan patterns, and workers are paid per square foot plus an additional 50 percent upon completion.”Every rug comes with the weaver’s story,” Rome said. And the works fetch high prices in the showrooms of Williams Switzer galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco, as well as in “trunk shows” and traveling exhibits like the one coming to Aspen.

“All of the money from the rug sales go directly back to Afghan and the communities,” Rome said. “We do make sure that the money goes into the women’s hands.”Arzu held a show in July at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen and a sale at the Caribou Club. And after a event in Houston this year sold 65 rugs and raised more than $200,000, Rome has high hopes for the sale at the Aspen Square Hotel next week.For information, visit http://www.arzurugs.org.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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