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Devon Avenue Store Empowering Women — In Pakistan

By Benjamin Woodard | December 25, 2012 1:11am

WEST RIDGE — In a little storefront next door to a Devon Avenue hair salon and across the street from a hookah bar, impoverished woman from Pakistan are selling hand-knitted clothing and beaded jewelry.

The nonprofit store, called Shop N' Help, opened Sunday and quickly sold half of its international inventory to hundreds of customers, said Nadia Zeeshan, who manages the store for the charity Helping Hand.

The handmade goods are shipped in from regions of Pakistan where women don't often have the opportunity to work outside the home, she said.

"We want to promote the skills these women have in third-world countries," the 37-year-old said.

The quilts, clothing and jewelry aren't sold in places like Buner, Pakistan, she said, because the goods are commonplace.

But on a busy commercial strip steps from little India and Little Israel, a $14.99 hand-knitted baby outfit sells fast.

Helping Hand formed in the United States to raise money and send support to those affected by the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan, that killed nearly 80,000 people.

The women in Pakistan receive a cut of the sale price while the rest goes toward paying the store's rent and wages for the store's two employees.

Shafaq Vali, 25, who lives nearby with her two children, works the morning shift at the shop, which will be open every day except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Twenty-year-old Noora Yousef works the evening shift after her classes at Harold Washington University.

Zeeshan said Helping Hand also provides interest free micro-loans to people whose lives were upended by natural or humanitarian disaster. A motorbike rickshaw, for example, costs about $2,000 in Pakistan, which is too much for a family to afford after disaster strikes, like during the Pakistan floods of 2010.

Inside the store, at 2756 W. Devon Ave., an authentic motorbike rickshaw sits in the entrance, a reminder of the store's purpose, Zeeshan said.

She said the women who create the store's merchandise are empowered knowing they can sell what they make thousands of miles away in the United States.

"For so many people," said Zeeshan, "their livelihoods are attached to it."