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How A Group Of Air Force Pilots Are Helping Women Fighting For Equality


First of two parts; an exclusive on Flying Scarfs which is on a “mission is to help bring people in under-developed countries out of poverty through economic opportunity.”

Regardless of your political, ethical or moral beliefs regarding the U.S. military’s involvement in the Middle East over the last 13 years, you must admit that our service men and women have been exemplary in carrying out their duties.

And this story will amplify one example of the charitable and humanitarian efforts carried out by military personnel.

The noncombatant citizens who live in this war-torn areas have seen decades of tragedy and poverty. Women and children have suffered the most.

Widows are particularly impacted. For instance, the average age of an Afghan widow is 35 and 94 percent are illiterate. Supporting themselves and their families – on average, four children – is practically impossible. The culture does not allow women to work … if there was work to be done. The infrastructure and economy has been wrecked by decades of conflict.

In addition to a lack of commerce, the education is lacking only available to those with money. When people – in particular, young males – have no hope, it’s easier to coerce and convince them that violence and terrorism is their only path forward.

While stationed in Afghanistan, members of the 335th Fighter Squadron became involved with the ”Flying Scarfs” organization, a non-profit that sells handmade scarves from 200 Afghan widows. The mission statement is simple: provide jobs for these women and widows so that they can not only feed and clothe their children but also give them the chance at an education.

“Poverty and a lack of education are the oxygen that fuels the insurgency,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Joseph Stenger, one of the officers who helped start the project. “You’re not just buying a scarf. What you’re doing is making an investment in the peace and stability of Afghanistan.”

As with most endeavors of this kind, a chance encounter was the beginning. While visiting a local bazaar, several of the pilots met Jawid Rahemy and Wasil Jamily, two young Afghan men who were selling the women’s scarves. The light bulb came on and the pilots realized that connecting with businesses in America to sell the scarfs.

“Wasil told us about his mother, who had started teaching local women how to support themselves,” Hudgins said. “Then we asked Wasil if he and his mother would be interested in partnering with us to market the scarfs in the U.S. And Flying Scarfs was born.”

Since it began, Flying Scarfs has grown and now employs over 300 Afghan women. The sale of one scarf for $36 provides a week’s income for the woman who made it. Flying Scarfs is considered a “social enterprise.” It’s a business venture that’s meant to help achieve societal change.

“We wanted to help give them a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand-out,'” said Hudgins. “Our goal is to help provide a long-term solution and a way to let these women tell their story.”

In Part Two: Read how the “Flying Scarfs” is trying to expand its operations and revenues and how you can help.

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.

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