Mariam Alimi hopes that peace will come to Afghanistan because it will make her job a lot easier.
Alimi, a 30-year-old from Kabul, is part of a small number of female photographers in Afghanistan, and travel throughout the war-torn country is difficult. When she first started taking pictures, Alimi’s father worried about her safety.
“There are so many challenges I face,” Alimi said.
This month, she is one of 20 women involved in Project Artemis through the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale.
The two-week program, in its fourth year, teaches Afghan businesswomen like Alimi how to start or expand their business through entrepreneurial decision-making training, classes on marketing, finance, visits to local businesses and a two-year mentorship.
Wynona Heim, the program manager, said she became involved with the program after graduating from Thunderbird, and wanted to do something to make a difference.
“They’re really hungry for knowledge. They want to get more and more,” Heim said of the group. “They’re really excited. They’re like sponges, they are not at all shy to ask questions.”
On Friday afternoon, the group heard a presentation from Hickman’s Farms in Buckeye about how the family business started and grew to where it is today.
The women work in a variety of different businesses from their own chicken farms, to schools, or consumer products, and they have visited a variety of businesses around the Valley.
The project coordinators kept the women busy last week with classes and trips, but the visit to Arizona itself is a culture shock to the group.
“They have some things that you expect them to notice when they get here, like the dress, but they have some things you might not expect,’ Heim said, explaining the women were amazed at the calmness of traffic — they were shocked that drivers actually obeyed traffic laws.
Alimi first realized she had a talent for photography in 2006 after taking a picture with a small camera of a farmer listening to headphones and a friend convinced her to do more.
“When I took that picture, she motivated me and encouraged me,” Alimi said.
Now, Alimi would love to do more things with photography to expand her business and maybe teach. The world of photography is fairly new to Afghanistan in general, but especially for women, she said.
The program and trip to Arizona has been a “completely different” experience for Alimi, but the program so far has been great.
“What I like about it is, it is very organized and we are really learning things,” Alimi said.
Suhila Wazeri, another student who has her own chicken farm in a small town in Afghanistan, said the group has learned a lot of new things.
“With the knowledge we have gained, we will be able to grow our businesses,” she said through an interpreter from her native language of Dari.
Wazeri showed pictures of her own chicken farm to Gertrude Hickman during Friday’s presentation, and asked many questions about the type of equipment Hickman’s uses and how they vaccinate the birds against disease.
Wazeri said her business is basic, with little money, but learning more about Hickman’s was inspiring. She can’t wait to tell the people back in her village about all that she has learned.
This week, the women will meet with the mentors they have been matched up with by business type, who will keep in contact with them for the next two years, giving them tips and advice on their business. The Project Artemis graduation ceremony is next Friday before the women return home to put their newfound skills to work.