The 'light' in Shamellah's fingers
Kabul, 21 November 2008 - Shamellah nimbly picks off discoloured leaves from the young almond and willow trees. There are rows of neatly planted saplings of different heights within the walls that define her small home nursery. Pointing at the larger plants, she says she sold one thousand like them last January for US$880.
"With the money, I have been able to do so much. I have improved my home by getting rugs on the floors and putting in electricity. For the children I bought uniforms and books for school and a television. I have saved about US$200 and invested US$200 more on buying seeds and fertilizer for next year."
All this has been possible because Shamellah is part of a scheme called the Green Afghanistan Initiative (GAIN). It's jointly run by the Government of Afghanistan and UN agencies, with WFP providing food assistance. It has two purposes: to address environmental deterioration in a country affected by conflict and drought; and to provide vulnerable people with a sustainable livelihood.
Monthly ration of food
It manages this in two ways. Firstly, GAIN sets up large nurseries where men and women can do seasonal work. In exchange for their labour, they receive a monthly ration of food from WFP.
Secondly, women from vulnerable groups such as widows, the displaced and also some who already work in the large nurseries but show promise, can apply to have a home-based nursery. There are currently 400 of them in four districts of Balkh province alone.
With a broad smile, Shamellah says that she has "light in her fingers" (the Dari equivalent of 'green fingers') and that's why she was a successful applicant. "I received training for a week and I learned very well about agriculture and horticulture, how to graft plants, how to plant seeds and how to fertilize and irrigate them."
Tools and fertilizer
Shamellah was then given tools and fertilizer to take home and work on her garden in readiness for the delivery. When the truck arrived, it was full of young trees, all for her. "For poor people like me, to try to buy saplings that cost US$1 each, it was too much. So receiving 2,000 plants was just amazing."
For the next ten months WFP gave Shamellah a monthly ration of wheat, pulses, oil and salt. This meant she could then concentrate on raising the plants, rather than trying to find work, which in the past she had often failed to do.
And for Shamellah's family, that made all the difference. Her husband is 80 and has not worked for years. Their six children still living at home were able to attend school regularly. They no longer had to work wherever they could to help bring in money for the family to buy food.
Confident about the future
So now, able to sell saplings and grow more for next year, Shamellah feels confident for the first time about being able to support her family in the future.
Asked if after all her hard work she has treated herself as well, she smiles again and disappears behind a curtain in a doorway. When she comes back, she opens her hands to show a pair of gold earrings. At the age of 55, this is the first real jewellery that she can call her own.