KABUL -- Dur Khanum, a tailoring workshop, is offering girls and women in Kabul the opportunity to attend sewing training courses for free.
Samira Sadaat, 36, who founded the workshop, headed a cleaning company in Kabul a year ago.
Most of her staff were uneducated and poor women who were the breadwinners of their families.
Demand disappeared after Afghanistan's wealthy fled the country in August, leaving Sadaat's employees with unprecedented economic challenges, she said.
"I established a tailoring workshop -- Dur Khanum -- [in September] to support poor women who also headed their families," she said.
Donations from her friends and from Afghans abroad fund the programme.
"There were 20 women in the beginning, who started learning to tailor. We also hired an instructor. The first batch graduated after attending a two-month course," Sadaat said.
Some 23 women are taking part in the second batch, she added.
The establishment of the workshop by Sadaat comes at a critical time as most investors have either suspended or limited their operations in Afghanistan.
Fatima Muhammadi, a 45-year-old mother of four and the breadwinner of her household, is one of the women attending the training course.
"I am illiterate and cannot take on any other work. I used to do cleaning with the cleaning company. Before that, I was a baker," she said.
Muhammadi said she hopes she will be able to earn enough to support her family after acquiring the tailoring skills.
"I have learned a lot since I started the training," she said.
Other participants who have been denied access to schools are hoping to find a source of income by learning sewing.
Although girls may attend school up to sixth grade, secondary schools for girls were ordered to shut in March, just hours after being reopened for the first time since August.
Habiba, 19, a resident of Kabul and a 12th grader who goes by her first name, has unable to go to school since last year.
"I have been learning sewing for the past five months," she said. "So far, I have learned skills such as cutting and sewing different clothes."
The first batch of students studied for two months, but Sadaat, the workshop founder, later increased the training period to six months.
Habiba had hoped to become a journalist after she completed her studies. Despite the ban on girls' education, she is still hopeful that schools will open soon.
"We hope that schools will open soon, so that we are able to continue our studies. Otherwise, I have to become a tailor," she said.
Najma Husaini, 18, a Kabul resident and one of the students at the workshop, said she has learned to make different kinds of dresses for women.
"I used to learn by taking notes in the beginning. However, I can now sew with guidance from my instructor," she said.
Najma said that she has made several articles of clothing for herself so far and hopes to be able to sew clothes independently shortly.
"Now that I cannot go to school, I want to become a professional tailor so that I can support my family. There are six people in my family, and I am the oldest," said Najma, an 11th grader.
Another trainee at the workshop, Zahra, 18, who gave only her first name, said before attending the Dur Khanum workshop, she was going to school and was in 11th grade.
She said she decided to learn tailoring with the hope of helping her father -- who is in Iran to find work -- support their family.
"I can now sew simple clothes as well as Afghan traditional embroidered clothes," she said, referring to the new skills she has learned.
"If schools do not start, I want to continue learning the tailoring profession so that I can make traditional Afghan clothes for export," Zahra added.
The right to work and the right to education have been taken away from women and girls, said Sadaat, the workshop founder.
"Despite many constraints and challenges, the Dur Khanum workshop has been able to solve a small part of the problems of a small group in Afghanistan. However, if we get further financial support, we could expand the programme," she said.
The workshop previously served lunch for trainees in the beginning, which allowed them to work longer. However, the training now adjourns at about noon because of budgetary constraints, said Sadaat.
Female entrepreneurs are confronting many challenges, said Afsana Rahimi, chairperson of the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Such challenges include, among others, the closure of export routes, the abandonment of woman-run markets, limited access to financial resources and to domestic markets, and problems with banking and money transfers, according to Rahimi.
"Gradually and step by step and in co-ordination with relevant and reputable institutions [including the Ministry of Commerce], we are exploring suitable solutions to address the challenges facing female entrepreneurs and to get women back to their previous state," she said.