By Naghmeh Mizanian

Iranian female entrepreneur returns from U.S. to empower rural women

January 21, 2019 - 20:26

TEHRAN – “If I am an Iranian what I have done for my country? Not considering the duties of the government, what is my responsibility toward my country?” asks Maria Saeedi, an Iranian craftswoman.

“I always ask myself: What am I giving others instead of all I have gained?” she continued to say in a phone interview with the Tehran Times on Sunday.

Maria Saeedi is an Iranian crafter who preferred living in a small village in a desert area in her motherland instead of residing in the U.S. aiming to empower Iranian rural women.

Nine years ago, just as a tourist, she visited the region and then she selected that area to live temporary in a clam and relax area.
Garmeh is a village in Nakhlestan Rural District, in the Central District of Khur and Biabanak County, Isfahan Province, Iran. In 2006 census, its population was 244, in 69 families.

Few months later she received here U.S. Green Card. Maria left Iran for the U.S. but the glamor the U.S. could not satisfy Maria and fulfill her great wishes. She was enthusiastic to teach artworks to others and she was eager to empower Iranian women.

Nine years ago Maria selected the village of Garmeh as her residence. She managed to communicate well with the villagers through her good management and proper behavior. One year later she started Kilim weaving classes at her home. Then she held a local exhibition of women’s handicrafts. Making the women more encouraged, she began with the early-return crafts like knitting, crocheting, making jewelry and pendants.

Further, during the eleven-year period, she was waiting for her U.S. Green Card when many of her family members were living in the U.S., she learnt massaging, traditional medicine, handicrafts, in an attempt to start a job in the U.S.
Maria, 49, got her high school diploma in applied sciences to fulfill her parents’ wish on becoming a doctor. However, she changed her mind and began to learn artworks.

Maria, originally from the Iranian tribe of Bakhtiari, started with the art of painting with watercolor, miniature and leather painting.
Maria was aware that the small village of Garmeh is an attractive destination for tourists who visited there from more than 50 world countries. 

In her first visit to Garmeh, Maria found that the only handicraft was basketry. Later, she understood that the art of weaving textiles were forgotten in that area and only 4 middle-aged women, knew the art of weaving towels.

Visiting the great number of tourists in the area and their interest to buy handicrafts, the idea sparks in Maria’s mind and she began to take steps for helping people to earn more money out of the handicrafts.

Currently, about 50 people, mostly women, directly or indirectly, are earning their life under Maria’s entrepreneurship.

All the women being trained and employed by Maria are the vulnerable rural women or breadwinner women being supported by State Welfare Organization of Iran and Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, she explained.

The effect she made on desert area region of Khur and Biabanak is a fundamental effect, not merely in the surface, she believes.

The area is a tourist attracting area, however, in the last years no handicrafts were presented to the tourists visiting that field while today the most attractive handicrafts exhibitions are held by the people of the area, she stated.

“When I started to work on the handicrafts of the area not only the rural people, but the officials did not believe on the financial benefit of handicrafts,” Maria explained.

Currently, designing clothes for the actors and actresses of Salman Farsi TV serial, Maria regretted she has never gained any revenues from tourism industry of the region but all from the handicraft.

Maria revived the old traditional outfit of women of that village teaching the needle works to women. She also creates dolls in the shape and dress of women of the area.

Comparing handicrafts to other industries of the area, Maria seriously believes that she has created a great change in the venue of people of the region. 

Handicraft is the cultural indicator of people, as well as a source of revenue, she emphasized.

Maria believes that handicrafts creates no wastes and it is a safe at-home job for women.

Maria was aiming to introduce the culture of civilization of Iran to foreign tourists and to show the capabilities of Iranian women but she did not completely fulfilled her goal. 

However, she gained a more important goal which was creating great positive change in life and viewpoint of women of the region.

The small number of women who already worked on handicrafts were embarrassed on selling their products while today the number of women working in this field has grown considerably and they proudly produce and sell their artwork, concluded Maria with great honor.