A team of airmen are working hand-in-hand with Afghani widows to rebuild their future after they lost their husbands in war.
When four Air Force Officers deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, they came across beautiful, artisan scarfs that were being made and sold locally. The service members uncovered that the creators of the handmade products were Afghani women who were working to support their families after their husbands were killed by the Taliban. The airmen decided they wanted to become part of a bigger mission that helped women in similar situations. Flying Scarfs – a not-for-profit organization comprised of military officers and volunteers, would be the vehicle to do it.
“… we were four military guys trying to start a retail business that dealt with women’s fashion. I won’t go so far as to say we were clueless, but we definitely needed help,” Joseph Stenger, one of the founders of Flying Scarfs, said.
Airmen Give Afghani Widows Hope for the Future
Stenger, a F-35 fighter pilot, along with Major Josh Carroll, an Air Force Reservist and Duke law student, Air Force Captain Jonathan Hudgins, MBA candidate at Duke, and Ryan Bodenhiember, a pilot for the USAF Thunderbirds, worked together to cultivate this idea.
“Running Flying Scarfs is a full-time job that wouldn’t be possible without the exceptional team we have put together,” Stenger said. “Even though we are now spread out across the country, we communicate regularly and have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.”
The trust and faith in each other that began in the air transferred easily over to the business side of things, especially as they are ready to back each other up when life gets busy. While beginning the business, these men relied on their families and friends for support. The women in their lives were very helpful when picking out which scarves to sell. They also relied on their networks for getting the word out, mostly through a grassroots campaign.
Flying Scarfs works with artisan women from Afghanistan, Kenya, and Haiti. The officers have plans to reunite with their team in Afghanistan after their military commitment is up, as they are currently not permitted to travel their as civilians.
“The women we work with want people to know their stories. Making that connection is almost as important as the financial gain for them,” Stenger said. “The most powerful thing I’ve heard since I started working with Flying Scarfs was an Afghani woman say, ‘I can’t believe a woman in the United States sees value in something I created.’”
Stenger admits he never before made the connection that many of the women have been so devalued by their own countrymen that the simple act of someone else purchasing their work was enough to boost their self-esteem.
“Every scarf we sell tells a story of a woman who is working to provide for her family while fighting to shed the shackles of social injustice that have held her down for decades,” he said. The fight is not just for themselves, but for the generations of women to come after them. The airmen believe that by connecting customers to the scarfs, they are making them a part of the Afghani women’s stories.
“When you join the team, you help a woman change the social paradigm in her village. You make an instant impact,” Stenger said.
The scarfs are reasonably priced, but more importantly every purchase is making a difference in the life of a woman trying to give her family a shot at a better life. One hundred percent of the profits from the sale of these items goes back to the Afghani people in an effort to build economic stability.
For information on Flying Scarfs and to purchase a handmade scarf, visit the website at: http://www.flyingscarfs.com/