During our deployment, we saved countless American and NATO lives by dropping ordnance on an enemy that stood no chance against the might of one of the most advanced fighters in the world. In war, those events are unavoidable and absolutely necessary, but using kinetics against an ill-equipped enemy from a safe distance is anything but heroic. And when entire mountain sides are destroyed by a decade of pilots like you dropping bombs in the exact same spot for the exact same reason, you can't help but think "there has to be a better way".
After talking to local Afghans we learned that insurgent groups in Afghanistan preyed on children who were forced to beg on the streets of Kabul. These children were desperate and in many cases responsible for providing for their younger siblings and their widowed mothers. Poverty and desperation opened the door for extremist groups who could offer them a salary they would otherwise never receive in exchange for their loyalty. Sadly, when you're 9 years old, homeless and starving - this is not a difficult choice.
After learning about this unconscionable paradigm, the solution became clear: employ parents, keep kids in school and off the streets, thereby the suffocating insurgent recruiting. We were ambitious, but our team backed it up with immediate action. Co-founders Jonathan Hudgins and Josh Carroll, inspired by a picture they received from Jon's sister in which all the girls in her sorority were wearing scarves, met with a young man whose mother taught widows how to create handmade scarves. We learned that the women's husbands were killed by the Taliban, and, because of conservative cultural norms, they were unable to hold public employment. These women had an average of 4 children each, most of whom were forced to peddle whatever items they could find or beg on the streets of Kabul where insurgent recruiters would eventually find and likely coerce them into joining their group. In that moment, it was hard not to imagine that, if nothing else was done, our children would be fighting their children in 20 years. So, we went to work selling the widow's scarves online and sending whatever we could back to their families.
The rest is history. Since 2011, Flying Scarfs has raised nearly $200,000 for widows in Afghanistan. Now, 60 women in Afghanistan work part-time for Flying Scarfs, and an astonishing 75% of their children are in primary school. We can't quantify how many of them would have been recruited by insurgents if their mothers weren't employed, but we're certain that our business saved at least some from the clutches of extremism.
Our work is far from over. There are a lot of challenges in importing scarves from Afghanistan, but our motivation is higher than it was when we first started. We still need customers to buy scarves, spread the word, and champion our cause. The future is bright at Flying Scarfs, and there's no limit on what we can do next.