WWith determination, a powerful message and tea-cured salmon, Margaret Rich has raised more than $40,000 for the women of Afghanistan. Rich hopes that that will spark the community interest needed to sustain an ongoing concern about women’s rights there.

The tea-cured salmon was one of the many elegant appetizers served at a fundraiser held last month at the 13.1-acre Durham estate of Dr. James H. and Mary D.B.T. Semans–where Rich is the family’s gardener. The event raised $40,000, and Rich said the checks are continuing to come in.

Not bad for a woman who became interested in Afghanistan just a few months ago.

After hearing Dr. Sima Samar and journalist Sally Armstrong speak about Afghan women at UNC-Chapel Hill last winter, Rich remembers thinking, “God, what have I ever done?” This probing question inspired Rich to start a fund-raising campaign to help Samar fund her under-resourced Shuhada Organization. Samar, an Afghan doctor and a women’s rights activist, runs the non-profit organization in Afghanistan that works to empower women and children. She also served as deputy prime minister and minister of women’s affairs after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Although the Taliban has been removed from power, Afghan women have not been fully liberated from years of oppression. People think that “because the Taliban is gone that the problem has gone away,” says Rosemary Waldorf, the former Chapel Hill mayor who’s helping Rich through her public relations business. However the problem has spread to what Armstrong calls “spine-chilling degrees.”

Afghan women continue to struggle for access to basic education and health care. Although the strict Taliban laws have been relaxed, many women are scared to walk the streets without the full-covering burqa as a barrier.

The human rights abuses are occurring on a large and overwhelming scale. It is easy to get discouraged. “If people only knew there was a way to help,” Waldorf says. Rich’s outreach into the community, which culminated in the fund-raising party, helped discourage the misconceptions.

Similar attitudes have inspired other communities to help raise money for Afghan women. For example, a group in Canada established a potluck dinner organization that meets periodically to raise funds for Afghan women. Groups such as this provide the Triangle community with models for sustainable fundraisers. “We have to start something that is ongoing,” Rich says. “It’s certainly worth keeping going.”

Armstrong says she is impressed by Rich’s success, but not surprised. Her experience with Samar’s work has taught her a lot. “One person can make a difference,” she says. “It’s very true.” EndBlock

How you can help:
Make checks out to The Feminist Majority-Shuhada Organization and mail them to Margaret Rich, 602 East Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, NC 27514. All gifts are tax deductible and 100 percent of the donations goes to the Shuhada Organization.