The long, arduous journey of a woman artisan and her daughter

Kashif Abbasi

Fouzia Naheed and her daughter Ambreen Fatima at their stall in Islamabad Expo-2015.
ISLAMABAD: After overcoming all odds, 53-year-old Fouzia Naheed is running a small business of handmade dolls and puppets. She says nothing can stop women from achieving their goals if they have a strong determination and willpower.
After the death of her husband about two decades ago, Fouzia needed a sustenance for her daughter Ambreen Fatima, who was only two years old at that time. But Fouzia’s craftily handmade dolls took her from the narrow streets of Rawalpindi to London where her art was admired.
Fouzia, a resident of Rawlapindi, who runs her business with the help of her daughter, spoke to Dawn at the Islamabad Expo-2015 organised by the Islamabad Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) at the Convention Centre.
“After the death of my husband, my in-laws disowned me. I was upset as I had nothing to even feed my daughter.”
She added: “Somehow I managed Rs250 and purchased old jackets from the Lunda Bazaar and started making dolls, puppets and toys to feed my daughter.”
Due to the strong determination, her business kept on growing and in 2007 she got a chance to represent Pakistan at an international exhibition held in the United Kingdom. “It was a wonderful experience. I used to sell the dolls in the narrow streets of Rawalpindi but all of a sudden I got a chance to sell the same products in London.”
Recalling her old days, she started weeping. “I still remember how difficult it was for me to walk in the streets of Rawalpindi with a bag of dolls and Ambreen on my shoulder.”
She said after the death of her husband, she was forced to move to her parents’ home where she also faced lots of difficulties.
Her daughter, who is now 23, and assisting her in the business, added: “After the death of my father, we saw a very difficult time but instead of relying on the relatives my mother started making dolls and puppets to run the kitchen.”
She said despite financial difficulties her mother paid special focus on her education. “Now I am preparing for the BA examination,” she said.
In 2013, Ambreen also represented Pakistan in an exhibition held in Manchester, UK.
“Both the artisans have a full command on the art of traditional doll making. A number of toys, including baby dolls, made by them fascinated the visitors, particularly diplomats,” said Samina Fazil, the founding president of the IWCC, who helped Fouzia in setting up her stall at the Islamabad expo free of cost.
“She makes dolls in traditional dresses of Sindhi, Balochi, Pashtoon and Punjabi brides and grooms. Indeed she is promoting the country’s culture.”
Sharing her experience of attending the international exhibition in London, Fouzia said there was a huge demand for her work in London.
“All My dolls were sold out there,” she said and added that the then High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, supported her and appreciated her work.
“A lot of hard work is involved in making the dolls with hands. In two days, I make one doll which earns me Rs1,000. I should be provided machines or financial assistance by the government so that I can promote my business.”
She also demanded the Capital Development Authority (CDA) allot her a space to run her business in the city.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2015