Thunderbird for Good is preparing to host our fifth cohort of Afghan women entrepreneurs at Project Artemis, a unique program that focuses on basic business and leadership skills for this critical population of women leading economic growth in their country.
Approximately 15 women from Afghanistan will be selected for full scholarships for the program, and will be matched up with experienced business professionals who are willing to commit to mentoring these extraordinary businesswomen for a period of two years. Mentoring relationships can be anything from a casual friendship/sounding board, to a more formal advisor who can help with business planning and strategy.
Read on to hear about one of our 2006 Artemis graduates, Lima Ahmad, and the difference that Thunderbird, Project Artemis, and her Artemis mentor have made in her life.
For more on Project Artemis and the mentoring opportunity, visit the website: http://tinyurl.com/artemismentoring
Hello my dear Reader!
I just hope you will enjoy reading this small memoir of a not very known person, but for sure part of Thunderbird history. My name is Lima Ahmad. I am from the country where every other person in the world thinks about it as the poorest country in the world. The country that you might hear everyday something in the media about horrible things happening to women. The country which is known for its civil wars, terrorist attacks, and being a victim of the Cold War. I am from Afghanistan. Perhaps, I see you are getting interested in continuing to read. Well my dear Reader, this is fact that now a days people really get interested to read or hear from Afghan women, because they do not expect things from them as they are always associated with some kind of stereotypes. But I am as normal person as any other person can be. Now I will tell you some of my life facts, which tie me with Thunderbird School of Global Management.
One thing I was sure from when I was eight or nine years old; and I am still sure now that I can always lead my life. I never give up. But there are times when I do not know how to start, and which direction to choose. However, I was always lucky enough to have someone to guide me find my vision. Although I do not believe in luck, I think everything can be achieved with strong will and struggle, still I consider myself a lucky person having so many chances in life, which saved me from being lost. And one of those chances is getting the chance of participating in the Artemis program.
My journey with the Artemis program started in 2006, but the journey of my struggles started long ago. Before telling you about the nodes I have tied with Thunderbird, which started with the Artemis program; a business-training program for women. You might think was I a businesswoman before coming to Artemis? Perhaps I was, but I needed a strong guide to find in me what I already had but didn’t know how to utilize.
Let me tell you a little about the ten year old Lima, and her business experiments which started when she was very young, however at that time she did not know what she was doing. She is ten years old; she got 15 Rupees (less than 50 cent) from her relatives who paid a visit to their home during EID (A big Muslim religious fest). She never saw that much money all together at once before, which could be her own property so easily. She and her mother would work day and night doing embroidery on shawls and would get no more than 170 rupees (less than 4 dollars) at the end of a month. Holding the old notes in her hand she dreamt and wondered if she could get hold of this money for long. Of course like everyone else she wanted to buy things which she dreamt of getting them since a long time ago, but it was neither her intention and nor was the money enough. She buys beans for 10 Rupees and gave the other five to her mother to let her use the heater to boil the beans. In the following moments she had a bowl of boiled beans in her hand and walking through streets calling Cholay! (boiled beans) with her little brother. What would some other girl of her age done with those 15 Rupees might be a different story but she returned home in the afternoon with 30 Rupees in her hand. This was the moment she started her journey of struggle and fighting with the challenges of her life. Her family lived on the “Cholay” business for years.
Later on in life she started designing the dresses with no capital in hand but after a couple of years she was able to pay for her brothers’ and her own education. In that age, she started to learn English and was not able pronounce “C” “J” and “X” and her class fellows would laugh and wonder that will there be a day that she will learn English? It didn’t take her long and by 2003 she was teaching at the same English language center to the same students who used to be her fellows.
So this was me, and my struggles in the early years of my life, but were these things enough to get me where I am today!? Well my dear reader, you might be wondering where I am today; certainly while writing this piece of memory, it is a Sunday morning and I am still sitting in my bed and reflecting on my old memories of bringing me here today. I hear the voices people outside my window who are the followers of one of the presidential candidates. “Votez pour le Front de Gauche”. Yes, I am in France. I am not surprised that I am even right now thinking in the French language and then writing in English. It has been now four months that I am here in France and studying at Francois Rabelais University. But for sure I didn’t jump directly here after being a teacher in an English center, nor had I a magic stick to make life easy and perfect for me. Although I had/have mentors from the Artemis program who were not lesser than the magic fairies.
My mentor Erica Haefner Ferro, who was matched with me in the Artemis program of 2006, is a marketing expert and a wonderful human being. Although all the mentors of Artemis program are wonderful but I believe I am the luckiest one to get Erica. First it was a best match that she was not much older than me, and second, she has the expertise that I had asked for in my application. Here comes the suggestion! ASK ALWAYS FOR WHAT YOU REALLY NEED! I knew I wanted to represent something or be the front face of any organization or business that I work in. I wanted to be good in talking, communicating, and how to sell my skills. Thus, I asked for a marketing export. Erica has been my mentor in any way possible. She even taught me writing emails, concentrating on each detail of my writing. Now I am one of the most read Afghan blog writers. And interestingly Erica always tells me “Lima you should consider writing a book; because you are a best story teller and an amazing writer”. However, I smile at her comments that she has forgot, that I am the one whose emails, she was editing and pointing out several mistakes in them. So for making her impressed I have become in her view the “BEST” writer J. I learned in the beginning of the Artemis program what a mentor can do for me. I never expected that she will write my business plan, nor wonder if she would finance my business idea. I figured it out that a mentor can be a mirror reflection of you where she listens to you and provides you some insight to your ideas and polish your ideas with her/his experiences.
During the course of last six years Erica and I are now best friends, although she was only required to be my mentor for two years. But I suppose I have her as my mentor and my friend for the rest of my life.
Participation in the Artemis program in 2006 certainly gave me a vision for life, that what I want in life but how can I follow my vision. The mentors from the Artemis program shaped my goals towards that vision. For instance, studying at a university such as Bucknell University seemed unreal before coming to Thunderbird. I never knew I had the same potential of studying what other American students or students from developed countries were studying. However, while I was in Thunderbird back in 2006, I met different students of MBA programs at Thunderbird, and I attended some of the MBA program classes. I saw that I understood what the professors in those classes were instructing. I found I can do it too, and it developed the desire for studying in a school such as Thunderbird. I learned from Erica how to sell myself and my skills, thus I convinced the mentors from Thunderbird how much I wanted to study and get the degree in the best university of the United States. With the help of the Artemis program mentors, right now I am studying in Bucknell University; one of the best schools in the United States from last 2 years. Furthermore, through my school study abroad program I was able to come here and study in France. It will not be an exaggeration, if I say that I have found the answers to so many unanswered questions in my life. The question of why women are always considered the secondary compared to men. Why sexism exists, why there is always war in the world and especially in my country, and so many more whys that now I know the politics behind them.
Today I am the founder of Paywand Afghanan business, which helps local artisans to enter local and international markets. It also provides marketing consultancy to small businesses. I am the co-founder of Sela Foundation, which is an emergency charity association run by volunteers. I have worked with United Nations, USAID and many governmental and international organizations back in home as a Project Management Specialist, as a Gender Advocacy Adviser and as a market segmentation instructor at Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women Program in Afghanistan. I am a certified gender trainer of UNDP and am involved in the implementation of the One Laptop per Child project in Afghanistan along with the Ministry of Education. I have represented Afghanistan at the ITU Telecom Youth Forum in 2006, and participated as an alumna in 2008 and 2009. I am studying towards my Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Women & Development. And I am hoping to continue my education to go for my master degree in Conflict resolution and Global governance. My aim is to apply my skills in the developing world and my own country. I believe connecting the world is an important tool for alleviating poverty in the areas of education, economics and gender gaps.
Where I am today is not something unique that no one else can achieve, certainly as one of my friends told me once “Lima you are as different as any other woman”. I surely believe this, however, I also believe that each person needs a guide to find his/her vision in life. In my case, the guide was the Artemis program of Thunderbird. I have been to Thunderbird twice again, and mentioned that many times, that I want to give back to Thunderbird what it has given me, and I have tried that through helping other women like myself. Helping them to find their visions. I proudly can say today that I have helped a couple of girls who have their businesses today, or have started studying at university level. I try my best to continue the same thing because the light of knowledge that I saw through the Artemis program is worth it to share with other women.
My dear reader, I hope you enjoyed reading my story until now, and I hope that the reader of this piece of memory is one day my daughter or my granddaughter who might go to Thunderbird and read about me, which I am sure will happen one day. I do not want to break my journey with Thunderbird and want to contribute to it in any way I can in the journey of my life. The only thing I can say is Thank you Thunderbird, Thank you Artemis