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Flying Scarfs keeps soaring

  • Published
  • By Airman Shawna L. Keyes
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. – Bursts of blues, magentas and greens are woven together to create tapestries of silken scarves by a group of widowed women in Bagram, Afghanistan.

In the fall of 2011, four Airmen found themselves deployed to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, where they came across a young man, selling artisan scarfs at a bazaar on behalf of his mother, who organized a group of widowed women to sell their wares. Wasil helped sell these women’s items, helping them support their families.

Capt. Jonathan Hudgins, currently a 333rd Fighter Squadron instructor pilot, was assigned to the 335th FS deployed to Bagram and came across son’s booth. Inquiring about the scarves’ origins, Hudgins decided he wanted to help these women.

Hudgins, along with Capt. Joseph Stenger, 62nd FS F-35 Lightning II instructor pilot, Maj. Joshua Carroll, 42nd Intelligence Squadron deputy flight commander, and Capt. Ryan Bodenheimer, U.S. Air Force Thunderbird pilot, contemplated ways to help the local widowed women and their families. They decided to start the nonprofit organization Flying Scarfs, to bring these women’s scarves to the states.

Prior to deploying, Hudgins read several books by Muhammad Yunas, and learned about business profits and how to solve social problems.

“While I was deployed, I really started diving deep into the problem in Afghanistan,” said Hudgins. “I read a lot of books about Afghanistan and started getting the sense that there was more to the struggles and strife than simply one side fighting another side. The conclusion I came to was that it boiled down to three things: Education, an economy that works and women’s rights.”

According to Hudgins, its taboo for these women to do anything outside of the home, so if their husbands die, they have no way of providing for their family. Therefore, when their male children are old enough, they’re put on the streets to make money for the family.

“When we walked around the base bazaar, we noticed these beautiful scarves being sold and we had this ‘aha’ moment,” said Carroll. “The scarves were light, easy to ship and fashionable, and also symbolic. It is this accessory that is used by women to cover themselves, and yet we were going to sell it as something that empowered these women as a sign of economic freedom.”

Hudgins recalled his "aha" moment when he received a picture from his sister and all her sorority friends. Of the 63 women pictured in the photo, only three weren’t wearing scarves. He realized there was a market for these scarves in America and they just had to figure out a way to bring it to them.

“Our theory and our goal is if we can help these women in any way, even in the smallest bit, provide for their families, then they can keep their young ones off the streets and in school,” said Hudgins. “Ultimately in the long run, keeping these kids off the street and in schools helps us. That’s one less extremist we’re potentially having to fight 10 to 20 years down the road.”

Hudgins explained that the mother already had a nonprofit in Parwan, Afghanistan, and decided to partner with her organization to bring the American consumer to them. The Airmen set up a website to sell the scarves and established bank and email accounts.

In order to get Flying Scarfs off the ground, each Airman put $1,000 of their own money for the start-up. Within one year, Flying Scarfs made more than $40,000 that went back to the Afghan women. On average, about 50 women create the scarves in order to support their families.

Hudgins explained that Flying Scarfs orders the scarves in bulk and ships them to a warehouse in Durham, North Carolina, where they are then shipped to the buyer.

“If we can help these families and take their income from one to two dollars a day, to maybe three or four dollars a day that would be like you and I going from $100,000 a year to $300,000 a year and that’s a dramatic lifestyle change.”

Through Flying Scarfs, the Afghan widows have a means of finding financial stability for themselves and their families, according to Hudgins. With the continuing success of the Afghan women, Flying Scarfs has extended its reach and now helps women in both Kenya and Haiti sell wares to support their families.

“The women we help are brave, hardworking and tenacious,” said Stenger. “They make these scarves by hand, in private, all while under threat of reprisal from the Taliban, who believes that they should not hold a job, even though they are their family’s sole breadwinners. Once we learned their story, there was no going back. Their fight was and is our fight, not just because we see them as the linchpin to the United States’ success, but because we both fight for the same cause: Freedom for all. Helping these women has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done.”

For more information on Flying Scarfs visit