51 micro-businesses started in honour of mosque victims

Bariz Shah and Saba Afrasyabi. Photo: Supplied
Bariz Shah and Saba Afrasyabi. Photo: Supplied
A couple’s efforts to transform the darkness of the Christchurch attacks into positive change has seen them establish 51 micro-businesses in Afghanistan.

Bariz Shah and Saba Afrasyabi spent three months in Kabul and Jalalabad last year, helping people to draw incomes from their own micro-enterprises in honour of the 51 Christchurch massacre victims.

They're speaking at the Festival for the Future next week and they're making a documentary about the project called Fiftyone.

“This project for us is a way of fighting back against oppression against anyone,” Shah told Jesse Mulligan.

“No matter what negative energy is inflicted on us by any oppressor during any time in our lives, this is our way of fighting back and transforming that negative energy that they put on us and using it to our advantage as fuel for positive change. This is what the project meant for me and Saba personally.”

The fifth-year Canterbury University civil and global humanitarian engineering student Shah, 25, and his photographer wife, Afrasyabi, 23, had planned their project before the March 15 terror attack took place.

The opportunity to serve people enriches their own lives and being able to record their experiences offered another opportunity to share what it means to help improve people’s lives, torn apart by war and strife.

“From a spiritual, internal perspective it was exactly what we had hoped for. Not only were we able to establish the 51 micro businesses we were able to film the entire empowerment process,” Shah says.

“The connections we made with people uplifted our own spirit and we can definitely say it has transformed our lives knowing that we want to serve people no matter where, either in New Zealand or abroad.”

The couple chose Afghanistan because they were originally from the country, before war forced their families to move to Pakistan. They were familiar with the country’s needs and the safety challenges that operating there would pose.

“At the time in 2019 we did research and found out that Afghanistan was rated the most dangerous country in the world… and we said we wanted to start in the most dangerous country and of course both of us are from Afghanistan so the logistics of it made it easier.

“We wouldn’t have seemed like foreigners and so from a safety perspective it would have been more safe for us to go there, instead of a place like Syria or another dangerous country.”

The project was funded by groups and individuals in New Zealand, including Canterbury University, the YWCA and $20,000 in donations to a fundraising page.

“We reached out to all the churches here in the Christchurch region and I’m very proud to say that the majority of the churches responded straight away positively and we were able to collect some funds.

“Through a Givealittle page that we established, Change for Our Children generously donated $10,000 no problem without any questions asked.

“But the general public they truly believed in this project, that creating something positive out of the tragedy and it was through the New Zealand public that we were able to do this.”

​One recipient featured in the documentary is 28-year-old mother-of-six Marzia Meerjahan Shah, who had been left a widow after her husband was killed in a suicide bomb attack.

The couple discovered she was a skilled seamstress and provided a sewing machine and materials for her to make reusable bags.

They visited her a month later and found her new micro-business thriving.

“Her story resonated with us because her husband was actually killed in a suicide bombing on Friday prayers so her story was directly related…

“There’s no benefits from the government so she had to go out and work on her own while raising six children. Her story represented the essence of our project. No matter how much difficulty she faced in her life she was still standing, fighting back and really raising beautiful children. We can’t wait to share her story with the New Zealand public,” Afrasyabi says.


Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter