His goal was for his firm to be the Afghan version of Etsy. Now it has become vitally important.
When Nasrat Khalid observed the consequences of the international aid freeze and the departure of charities, he saw the growing poverty and disorder.
ASEEL began as Afghanistan’s version of Etsy, selling jewelry, leather shoes, and other crafts online to help Afghanistan’s artists make a living.
ASEEL Afghanistan is an organization that has now dedicated great resources to providing humanitarian and military support in Afghanistan. ASEEL was formed by a group of Afghan-Americans currently living in the United States, aiming to improve Afghans’Afghans’ lives at home and abroad.
ASEEL’s mission is to provide direct humanitarian support such as medical supplies, food, clothing, and shelter to those affected by conflict and poverty in Afghanistan.
If there’s one thing an Afghan entrepreneur living in Washington, DC, Nasrat Khalid, has been yearning to do, it’s to enable people to purchase beautiful items from his country. “Aseel” is Afghan for “genuine.”
In the first year, Khalid says that they sold $35,000 worth of items from Afghanistan to customers in the U.S. and Australia, which have large Afghan diasporas.
Later that year, ASEEL took on a fresh mission, he said, referring to the Taliban takeover in August of 2021.
When Khalid looked at the aftermath of the chaos, he saw growing poverty and the absence of international aid.
An Inspired Moment of Powerlessness
In his view, it was one of the instances when he felt most helpless, but also the moment when his team decided to change fundamentally what they did.
ASEEL began assisting internally displaced persons in major cities such as Kabul by providing tents, clothing, and food packages, according to Madina Matin, the company’s media coordinator.
It soon became imperative to avoid starvation. Recent food shortages have become even more critical not only because of drought, unemployment, the ongoing epidemic, and the Ukrainian crisis, which has affected grain shipments but also because of the Taliban takeover.
ASEEL sought to fill the void in humanitarian aid in the country. In early August 2021, ”Emergency Support” was added as a category on the mobile app so individual donors could provide assistance.
A basic emergency food package costs around $85, including lentils, rice, beans, flour, oil, biscuits, sugar, and Afghan green tea. Whenever possible, ASEEL purchases items from local businesses in neighboring countries.
Matin says that clicks on the emergency tab have provided food to almost 43,275 families and 302,925 individuals as of August.
Jason Howk, the co-founder of Global Friends of Afghanistan, a humanitarian and human rights advocacy group, says that the app is now one of the most reliable ways to extend support to Afghans.
In addition to setting up delivery services through his network of people on the ground in various provinces, he encourages ASEEL’s supporters to provide food to the needy, stressing that his charity has done the same thing with artisans in the past. He is also donating the proceeds from his latest book, U.S. War Options in Afghanistan, to ASEEL.
In order to meet the challenges posed by the Taliban takeover, Women for Afghan Women (WAW) turned to ASEEL for assistance.
According to Kevin Schumacher, deputy executive director of a U.S.-based organization that addresses gender-based violence, they were forced to reduce more than half of their staff in the country and close services such as legal counsel for women and shelters for abuse survivors. However, medical care and humanitarian aid are still provided to the women they serve.
The need for banking services severely impaired their ability to send money to Afghanistan.
Berkman says that ASEEL helped him provide a few hundred packages to his existing beneficiaries, former clients, and even some former employees who are struggling by providing free healthcare for a month.
Food for the People
ASEEL’s food initiative has grown in scope by recruiting new volunteers. Matin says that they assist with deliveries and verify families that need help that ASEEL can provide.
Gul Makai, a 48-year-old single mother from Ghazni province, and her six children have benefited from the program. Because her salary was cut off after the Taliban took over her workplace, all of her children were suffering from starvation, says Makai. Because women in our village are not permitted to work, she told NPR.
According to her, her 15-year-old and 13-year-old sons ate shrubs outside the house three months ago, and both died from eating poisonous shrubs. She says her sons died.
Matin, a member of ASEEL, heard about her ordeal through a volunteer, who confirmed the information.
“These food packages have saved the rest of my family,” says Makai. “They are keeping us alive while my eldest surviving son and I look for work to support ourselves.
Khalid says that ASEEL is trying to rebuild its Etsy-like role and bring new artisans, particularly women, into the fold, even as the group continues its activism. Sales were disrupted because of Taliban inaction during the initial few months, he says, but they are now picking up again, and sales numbers are rising.
Khalid reflects on his company’s impact in the past year, saying, “When we were taking that kind of leap of faith, I didn’t know we were going to be this impactful. I am grateful for the work we are getting to do.”
At less than $1 million, Afghanistan’s domestic women’s rights movement is one of the largest in the world, says Jennifer Schumacher, executive director of the New York-based Women for Afghan Women.