Aseel started as Afghanistan’s version of Etsy – selling jewelry, leather shoes and other crafts online to help the country’s artisans make a living.
Nasrat Khalid, an Afghan entrepreneur who lives in Washington, D.C., came up with the idea in 2017. His goal was to enable people to buy beautiful objects from his homeland. The word “Aseel” is Afghan for “authentic.”
Nasrat Khalid started the online business Aseel to bring Afghan arts and crafts — like this vase — to a global market.
Mostafa Bassim for NPR
“We started with 11 vendors and in the first year sold $35,000 worth of items from Afghanistan to customers in the U.S. and Australia,” Khalid says – two countries with large Afghan diasporas.
“Then came August,” he added, referring to the Taliban takeover of 2021 — and Aseel took on a new mission.
Khalid watched an aftermath of chaos and growing poverty as international aid was frozen and charities pulled out.
A feeling of powerlessness, a moment of inspiration
“I think it was one of the moments I felt the most powerless in my life,” he explains, “but also the moment that inspired my team to radically shift what we do.”
Using the company’s cash reserves, Aseel began helping internally displaced people in big cities like Kabul – “providing shelter [tents to live in], clothes and food packages,” says Madina Matin, Aseel’s media coordinator.
Staving off hunger soon became a priority. Food shortages have become even more critical not only in the wake of the Taliban takeover but because of drought, unemployment, the ongoing pandemic –- and the crisis in Ukraine that has affected grain shipments.
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