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Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan

Background

Our thanks to Susan Bellan who initiated this fundraising project in 2002. She has been selling handmade clothing, furnishings, and gifts from many countries including Afghanistan in her shop, Timbuktu (formerly Frida Craft Store), since 1979. Susan Bellan initially put together and financed all printed materials and financed, created, and maintained the web site. All administration and management of Breaking Bread is now done by volunteers with CW4WAfghan.

For further information, please call 403 244-5625 or email BreakingBread@CW4WAfghan.ca.

Message from the Founder, Susan Bellan

I think a lot of people are curious about how this whole thing started, so it’s time to tell the story. In the winter of 2001, I read some newspaper articles talking about the plight of Afghan refugees living in tents and how hundreds of thousands might starve or die of cold. At the same time I was also reading about the appalling treatment of Afghan women living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Like many Canadians, I wanted to help Afghans out but did not know what to do.

I personally felt a special attachment and responsibility to Afghanistan, as I had spent a glorious three weeks there in 1976, part of a 6 month cross Asia solo trip. In addition, for the past 24 years I have been selling Afghan kelim rugs, socks, gloves, hats, and jewelry amongst other things at my downtown Toronto store Timbuktu (formerly known as Frida Craft Store).

On an Afghan women’s group website, I read that if you donated $750, that would enable them to hire one more teacher for a year to teach girls. Over the years I have been part of two women’s groups that get together annually for Pot Lucks, one being former neighbours and the other being my book club. While $750 was a hefty sum for me and for most people, I figured that if you divided this amount by 10 people, each giving $75, that level of contribution would not be a burden for many people.

Excited, in March 2002 I phoned an acquaintance, Marilou McPhedron, a well known feminist and community activist at Toronto’s York University who with a group of other prominent Canadian women had lobbied foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy to speak out for Afghan women during the reign of the Taliban. I told Marilou my idea, expecting her to say “ thank you so much, we’ll do it.” Instead to my surprise, she said “ Great idea, but it won’t happen unless you take it on yourself. We are overburdened here with all our existing projects. So ----- will you do it ? “ This was not at all what I had anticipated and after a very pregnant pause, I said that I would take it on. Marilou and I agreed that I should ask my book club friend Nancy Kroeker to advise me on how to set the project up. Nancy had been Executive Director of the Writers Development Trust for 8 years and had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Canadian authors through fundraising dinners held in people’s homes. I called Nancy and she agreed to help. Marilou then advised us to get in touch with Janice Eisenhauer, co founder and full time volunteer running Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan) in Calgary. CW4WAfghan had been one of the first groups in the world to lobby for, speak out on behalf of, and fundraise specifically for Afghan women.

Nancy suggested we create a catchy name for the project and came up with Breaking Bread for Women in Afghanistan. We organized a system whereby Breaking Bread would come up with a kit for hosts, do publicity, and organize the first Pot Lucks. Funds raised at the Pot Lucks would be mailed to CW4WAfghan Calgary as they already had a network of working relationships with various trusted and hard working Afghan women’s groups operating inside Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan. CW4WAfghan works with these project partners in Afghanistan to ensure 100% of the funds raised through Breaking Bread are applied via grants to teachers’ salaries, in a prompt and efficient manner.

As CW4WAfghan was managing Breaking Bread and as volunteers were not officially registered as a charity at that time, Janice said that she would ask Rights and Democracy, a Montreal based charity founded by Ed Broadbent to promote civil society, to issue tax receipts for contributors to Breaking Bread. They graciously agreed to do this at no cost, and CW4WAfghan agreed to manage the bookkeeping and grant process. A number of volunteers with CW4WAfghan in Calgary, including Barb Galeski, have put in place a system to ensure all the donor information is accurately recorded from each dinner, mailing labels are produced and thank you messages sent to hosts and guests. As well the volunteers work closely with the project partners in Afghanistan to ensure the grants issued each month are received promptly. Monitoring and evaluation reports are also submitted by our project partners for each grant.

I wrote a pamphlet with technical and artistic support from my store staff, Ocean Ronald and Robyn Poole, created a website, which was put up and is managed by my son, Adam Molson, and put together a Host Kit. My friends Canadian author, Joy Kogawa and John Flanders hosted the first Pot Luck at John’s Toronto condo in May 2002 and we raised $910 that night. Nancy Kroeker and I then organized our official Pot Luck launch in June at the home of Etta Arbeiter-Jacobs , another fellow book club member. Nancy knew journalist and former Homemaker Magazine editor Sally Armstrong and invited her to the launch. Sally had already made the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban known to tens of thousands of Canadian women through her articles in Chatelaine and Homemaker. Sally and I spoke to the gathering that evening. Ellen Roseman from the Toronto Star was in attendance and promised to get the right person at the Star to write an article about our event and what we were trying to do. Sure enough an article appeared next week by Ellie Tesher and the requests for Host Kits and more information began to roll in. CBC radio Edmonton heard about the article and did a story, which prompted more requests for information and kits. Since then, we have been interviewed by CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning and articles have been written in several local newspapers, as the Pot Lucks started to take place around the country. Chatelaine Magazine’s May 2004 issue featured an article written by Sally Armstrong about her visit to Breaking Bread projects in late 2003. It was so exciting for me and I’m sure for everyone else who has been involved to get some feedback and experience the excitement of the Afghan girls who are getting a real chance in life because of our Pot Lucks.

Sally has been a tremendous support for Breaking Bread. I am so impressed by her energy and bravery in ensuring that the public spotlight continues to be focused on the difficult plight of Afghan women and girls. Whenever she gives talks across Canada about the situation of Afghan women or promotes her new book about Afghanistan’s women, Veiled Threat, she tells audiences that if they want to give some practical support to Afghan women they should get involved with Breaking Bread. Scores of Pot Luck dinners have resulted from this. So far, there have been Pot Lucks held in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Yukon. I’m sure that the other provinces will not be far behind as the word continues to spread.

Western governments have not delivered sufficient funding or security to provide for effective peace building and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The majority of Afghans want peace and they want education. In addition to the terrible circumstances of poverty and post war trauma, Afghan women are still struggling against entrenched misogynist attitudes in their country. For this reason the funds raised through Breaking Bread Pot Luck Dinners are so amazingly important. We are making sure that funds are getting through to Afghan women’s group with proven track records of accomplishment and integrity. The tremendous generosity of spirit within Canada that this movement has tapped into is overwhelming. People who have attended Pot Lucks as guests then host them themselves, promote them in their local papers and media, figure out new and imaginative ways of doing the fundraising such as nature walks, birthday parties, farewell parties, school pot lucks, community supper pot lucks, and so on.

Janice Eisenhauer in particular and the volunteers at Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan have put in countless volunteer hours to make this thing work and deserve a huge thank you. Janice is putting in the equivalent of a full time job on a volunteer basis, advocating and fundraising for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan as well as looking for project partners for Breaking Bread, receiving applications for our grants, and monitoring their progress. Without her amazing hard work and resourcefulness, Breaking Bread for not be the success that it is or have accomplished nearly as much.

And of course, the women at our Afghan partner organizations, such Dr. Sima Samar of Shuhada Organization, the staff at Afghan Womens Resource Center, and Mary MacMakin of PARSA are showing incredible stamina, courage, and resourcefulness in their determination to bring education to Afghan girls and women, 90% of whom are illiterate. Over the years as the number of Pot Lucks have increased, we have tried to reach out to women’s group all over Afghanistan to spread our funds around and provide education opportunities for girls across the country. Our funds are in very good hands and an amazing amount is being done by our Afghan partners on an absolute shoestring.

People ask if the Pot Lucks will carry on. Well, I certainly think that they should and along with CW4WAfghan we plan to keep Breaking Bread going indefinitely. Some participants are on their second or third Pot Luck and want to make it an annual event like the Terry Fox Runs, as the goal is so worthwhile and the events are so much fun. Let’s keep this project going until we’re satisfied that Afghan women and girls are in a much more enviable situation. Through Breaking Bread and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, Canadians can let Afghan women and girls know that they have many friends here in Canada and we are here to support them.

 

For further information, please call 403 244-5625 or email BreakingBread@CW4WAfghan.ca

Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan
PO Box 86016, Marda Loop, Calgary, Alberta
Canada T2T 6B7

t: 1 (403) 244-5625
e: community@cw4wafghan.ca

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