Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beauty Behind the Veil

"Kabul Beauty School" is the story of Deborah Rodriguez and her journey as a volunteer worker in Afghanistan. She has her own personal reasons why she chose to focus her energies into helping the women of Kabul uplift and help themselves. Deborah, or "Debbie" as she is fondly called by those who know her, realize that there are rigid rules and conduct guide that Afghans place on their tradition-bound women. The cultural gap seems too wide to cross and sometimes both the Afghan women and Debbie have a hard time in all their communications, and it's not just a problem of language, too.

Back in America, Debbie was an expert beautician. But little did she know that fate had another plan for her other than being part of a volunteer U.S. medical team. She uses her expertise and mastery of the beauty industry to realize that she just might give the one of the most helpful service to all the women presently living in Afghanistan: a grand scheme to set up the Kabul Beauty School.

This idea was not just to make a salon right smack in the middle of a war-torn city, but to create a whole academy for Afghan women who have always placed a high price on beauty and have a long-standing and proud culture of beauty salons before the Taliban burned the establishments to the ground. Debbie spearheaded the campaign in the midst of challenges and death threats from extremist opposition. Through the help of beauty companies and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School was formed and had its first batch of trainee beauticians in 2003. Debbie trained the women to master the fundamentals of cutting hair, coloring techniques, and makeup. The School's goal is to empower the women to become financially independent through the income that they will be generating from their work in the salon.

The Kabul Beauty School was a success. Western and other foreign women from different peace groups, and wives and daughters of diplomats who have been living in Kabul have now a place to go for a good haircut, manicure, hair dye that they desperately need. The Afghan beauticians who have passed the School's training are now earning cash that they have never earned before and being a part of the Kabul Beauty School now gives them a sense of power, which is a surprising feat for a country so traditional that women were never seen as anything of value.

Debbie's story is full of energy, humor and packed with power. It is a story about the women who have struggled and are desperate to survive. Sadly, after going through fighting against cultural restrictions and bureaucratic battles, the Kabul Beauty School was shut down. But the book remains a testament of solidarity in the most trying of times and the coming together of the women of Kabul in an effort of freedom and independence.

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