“I believe in the power of stories to shape and change the world”
-Gayle Lemmon, author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a nonfiction books which reads like fiction. In 2005, when Gayle Lemmon went to Afghanistan in search of a story about female entrepeneurs, she was fortunate to find Kamilia Sediqi, a natural business woman as well as entrepreneur.
Kamilia Sediqi had just received her teachers degree which was rare for women in Afghanistan and was ready to embark on her new career when her whole life changed. The Taliban took control and over night women became second class citizens. They were forced to stay home and were no longer allowed to work. They were forbidden to go out without an escort, were not allowed to talk to men and were forced to wear a chadri also known as a burqa when in public.
When Kamilia’s parents were forced to leave the city, 19-year-old Kamilia was left with the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. Determined to keep her family together, she knew that she had to find a way to make money. With the help of her older, married sister who happened to be a seamstress, Kamilia learned to sew and completed her first garment, a dress. Kamilia hit the streets with her younger brother as her escort with hopes of finding a shop to sell her creations. Even though Kamilia was accompanied by her brother she had to be extremely careful and there were times when she found herself in potentially dangerous situations. She was talking to men who were not her relatives and she was doing business, two things a woman was absolutely forbidden to do. Kamilia returned home with her first order! Now all she had to do was produce the items she had promised. Kamilia and her sisters worked to all hours of the night to meet their deadline and were rewarded with even more orders. Their dress business had taken off and soon Kamilia found herself teaching her neighbors as well as many other local women in need of a job to sew and participate in her business. She never turned anyone away. Not only was Kamilia able to start and operate a successful business under Taliban rule, she was determined to teach other women the same skill.
Kamilia Sidiqi is an extraordinary woman. She is the founder of Kaweyan Business Development Services, a company committed to teaching Afghan’s the skills they need to start a business. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a New York Times Best Seller and a truly inspiring story. One person really can make a difference! Although I would have liked the book to have gone into even more depth, I found it to be a fascinating read. Gayle Lemmon met Kamilia Sidiqi while on assignment for The Financial Times and currently is a Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She has been published by the New York Times, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek to name just a few.