This Muslim-run NGO run in Hyderabad helps women build sustainable livelihoods

Founder of SAFA Rubina Mazhar with members of community kitchen Luqma. | Picture by arrangement

SAFA is an NGO that has changed the lives of thousands of women from poor economic groups in Hyderabad and given them hope for a better future. 

Nikhat Fatima |

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HYDERABAD (TELANGANA) — Founded in 2006 by a Muslim woman, SAFA is a non-government organisation (NGO) that has changed the lives of thousands of women in Hyderabad by providing them with livelihood opportunities. 

Rubina Nafees Mazhar, the founder and president of the organisation believes that empowering women is empowering families. 

Rubina, after living in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade, saw first-hand the plight of domestic workers from India, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. She was moved by their plight and started a campaign to help them. She returned to India and ventured into the travel industry before quitting it to work full-time for the welfare of women from marginalised sections. 

“Numerous problems related to women from the marginalised sections of Hyderabad were unaddressed and hidden. I seriously felt that this section of society needs to be empowered so that they can acknowledge their worth and potential,” Rubina said. 

In June 2006, Rubina started her organisation called SAFA with the primary aim to to bring education and skills to women living in Hyderabad’s slums. At first, she began with a small room in one slum with two sewing machines and gradually expanded her work to several slums in Hyderabad-Secunderabad. 

SAFA upgrades the skills of women and youth in trades like tailoring, embroidery, cooking, beauty and wellness, computer courses, General Duty Assistant Nurse, and Information Technology enabled Services (ITES), Advanced ITES, Retail Management, MEDP, (Micro-enterprise development program) etc. to provide livelihood opportunities to the poor underprivileged women and survivors of domestic violence. The women are either self-employed or placed in jobs that fetch them an average salary of Rs. 12000 per month. 

Rubina Mazhar with members of Luqma | Picture by arrangement

Apart from providing employment opportunities and skill training, SAFA also helps people gain access to government social security schemes and entitlements, health insurance, adult literacy and micro-savings.

The NGO has also set up a sustainable handicraft and apparel business called ‘Artizania’. It markets eco-friendly handcrafted lifestyle and ethnic products like shirts, trousers, jute bags, grocery bags, pen bags, tote bags, files and folders made by women.  

SAFA has also established a vocational training centre where women have trained in English-speaking and information and communication technologies, with a job guarantee in the end.

SAFA also imparts computer training to women. | Picture by arrangement

In 2020, SAFA started a unique project called ‘Luqma,’ which is a commercial community kitchen where authentic dishes with authentic flavours are cooked and sold. The women are provided training in culinary skills and training in packaging, hygiene, and business development to give them an edge in the highly competitive food business sector by expert chefs. These are mostly single women, widowed or deserted by their spouses. 

The business ventures Artizania and Luqma employ more than 400 women. 

Luqma does good business during Ramadan time providing Iftari (food to break fast during Ramadan) and Sehri (an early-morning meal during Ramadan) to patrons who order food. Besides doing catering work at events, SAFA has also opened a cafe called Luqma café at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU). 

In October, a food festival was held to celebrate and revive the lost dishes of Hyderabad. The festival was held in collaboration with CEIA, a digital food and hospitality magazine in which Luqma showcased Hyderabadi dishes and also marketed homemade products. 

SAFA not only helps women with economic sustainability but also empowers them through different capacity-building trainings. The organisation has several clubs where the youth and women are imparted skills to develop leadership skills, analytical abilities, financial management, forming self-help groups and accessing loans from banks and other financial institutions to set up their businesses. These trainings help the women develop self-confidence and change their perspectives towards life. 

SAFA also works with children to empower them and build their capacities for a better future 

During the Covid-19 lockdown, SAFA carried out relief work. The organisation distributed food, ration kits, masks, and sanitisers to the migrant labour, daily wage labourers, homeless people, and single women. 

What began as a small venture 16 years ago is now a huge project that has garnered fame at both the national and international levels, reaching out to around 3000 women, youth and children in a year—giving them hope and dreams. 

Every woman whose life has been touched by SAFA has a success story to tell. One that brought these women from the clutches of poverty, and unhappy violent marriages to a life of freedom and economic independence.

Nikhat Fatima is a correspondent with She tweets @snikhatf