Adult Literacy and Numeracy for Afghanistan’s Forgotten Society
Although UNICEF’s statistics on education make pretty grim reading today, they were much worse in the not so distant past. As a result of the conflict period in our country, there are generations of people who missed out on an education, and once more the majority of those affected were women.
With a lack of basic education, it has proved difficult for the women of this generation to achieve any kind of economic empowerment. In addition to this, with a lack of literacy skills, they have even struggled to understand their own basic rights as human beings, and have thus fallen into the trap of becoming subservient to the males in society.
Through adult literacy and numeracy classes, we hope to give adults, but women in particular, the basic skills they need to progress. With our business experts also performing seminars, we hope to make entrepreneurs from Afghanistan’s lost generation. We truly feel that women are the foundations of a good community, and thus by educating them, we empower them, and subsequently empower society as a whole.
We will continue to focus on adult literacy and numeracy within a number of Afghanistan’s poorest regions, and in this way will continue to increase the number of Afghan’s who have had the opportunity to learn. It is impossible to visualize sustained and positive development within communities without adequate education. In the future, we too hope to focus on such initiatives alongside micro-finance entrepreneurship schemes in order to maximize the impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.
Women’s Entrepreneurships + Micro-Finance Business
One way that we really feel that the ‘Gulzad Foundation’ can support the people of Afghanistan is through micro-finance business schemes and entrepreneurship programs. We have access to some of the most experienced and successful business minds in Afghanistan, as well as a number of contacts and resources to support such initiatives.
With the ‘Gulzad Group’ having a background in the Agriculture, Construction, and Investment sectors, to name a few, we truly have the foundations to support great community development programs on a large scale. As well as offering business advice, grants, and resources, we also connect our women to key contacts in Banking, Accounting, and Business Law, in order to enable them to understand the key components of running a successful business.
In the past we have arranged lectures and seminars, where many of our beneficiaries have stepped foot into banks, building societies, or law firms for the first time in their lives. They learn vital information about how to set up and run a business, as well as finding strength in numbers and inspiration to progress into the unknown.
Working with a Deaf and Mute School, a Blind School, Women’s Shelters, and Women Beggars, we have established a women’s only Bazaar, and encouraged our beneficiaries to sell items that they make themselves. Prior to this, women were often selling on the streets only, where it was not safe and where they couldn’t make sufficient money.
Now the women and girls are able to make a good income from the bazaar, enabling them to feel a sense of economic independence. As the income potential at the bazaar is such an improvement from simply selling on the streets, it also allows girls to split their time between income generation activities and schooling.
Many of our young girls were previously living on the streets and after we invited them into the program, they learned how to successfully run a business and generate income for themselves. Now many of them are able to attend private schools or different educational courses and to truly progress their lives in the long term. We actively encourage all of our beneficiaries to seek education, as well as income, as this is truly the path to a sustainable future.
Arezo is one of our group leaders, and without her involvement the ladies would not be where they are today. Arezo is a very strong, independent, highly determined, and motivated individual. She is adamant about reaching her goals and encourages the others to do the same.
Forced by her family to get engaged at the age of 14, to a man 20 years her senior and already married with children. By 18 she was married and taken to Iran because of the political instability in Afghanistan.
Today, her husband’s first wife, Soghra, is also part of our women’s bazaars. Arezo sees the potential in every woman, and believes they can all be as strong, if not stronger than their male counterparts, if only given the right opportunity.
Interview with Arezo
Before the bazaars I was a cook in a company where I prepared food for approximately 40 people by myself, which was very difficult. Through the bazaars I have become the sole-breadwinner of my family, and it has really helped me financially. I am proud not to have to borrow money from anyone anymore and to be fully self-sufficient.
The more you interact with society, the more you learn and the more you adapt. It has improved my English skills and also my Maths. I have excelled in my communication skills also, and my confidence has increased massively.
Yes, we have been able to buy land and build a small house. If you’re poor, it is crucial to have somewhere to live where you don’t pay rent. You may have good times and bad times, and thus if you have no house, one day you may not be able to afford rent and you will end up on the streets. Because of this, our main focus was to get our own place to live, and I am more than grateful to have been able to achieve that goal.
You see there aren’t many jobs for women to do in Afghanistan, especially if they are illiterate. If this project didn’t exist, many women would still be on the streets begging, or even worse in order to sustain their families. This is a very good project, which helps to sustain not only our own futures, but also the and futures of our families.
Yes, I am convinced by the success I have seen with this program, and thus I have motivated 50 other women to come also. All of them now too run their families, which in total amounts to approximately 150 family members, all of whom are being helped and empowered also.
At the beginning they used to hide from their families when they came to the camps, but now they have become so confident and motivated, and are proud to mention that they work in the camps and earn their own money. They are proud to have achieved what they have, and no longer feel any sense of shame like they did before.
The men of the families are too proud to accept that their wives now run the household, and are the main money earners. They don’t like their wives working, or even leaving the house, but, in my opinion, it is time for them to learn to trust, accept and understand. If a person is unfaithful they will be unfaithful anywhere.
I believe there is a fundamental lack of trust between married couples in Afghanistan, and because of that, the men don’t allow their wives to be independent. Nothing, however, will be resolved this way.
I believe we should learn how to trust each other and work on that basis, rather than simply forbidding everything. Unfortunately this has become a part of our culture and we justify it with our religion. But Islam doesn’t mention anywhere that we should completely take way the rights of any woman, or even any human being for that matter.
I love Afghanistan and I have always supported Afghanistan with my prayers. I even argue with my husband if he takes the side of another country in the Olympics, or any other sport. If my fellow Afghans are successful in sport, or any other field, then I feel so much pride in myself and my country. I am proud to be from Afghanistan.
We hope to expand the women’s bazaar, and make it yet more profitable for the sellers there. We also hope to reproduce this initiative in other areas of Afghanistan where the benefit could be equally massive. In the long-term we hope to be able to open permanent shops or cafes, run in partnership with ourselves and women’s cooperatives, which would eventually become fully independent, sustainable businesses.
We also hope to develop our entrepreneurship schemes on from the Women’s Bazaar, offering opportunities to individuals to learn and eventually become established within agriculture in particular, and already we have begun developing a seed project. It is our vision that we will be able to use the knowledge and expertise of the Gulzad Group employees to help facilitate this, and with access to both land and facilities, see it as truly exciting prospect.
One of the shocking realities in Afghanistan, at the time that our Program was first established, was the lack of an identity given to the Afghan women. Women would be named at birth, but then simply called ‘the daughter of’ or ‘the wife of’. This lack of identity had a really profound impact on the Afghan women’s sense of hope and belonging.
A program was set up to support women within the community, but only on the condition that they possessed a Tazkira or Afghan ID card stating their first name. This was seen as an incredibly significant step towards empowering women, and proved to be a huge success with close to a thousand women successfully obtaining the document.
We hope in the future to enable all women to have the right to identification. It is something that many of us take for granted, but it can be hugely empowering to someone who has never had it. It is a simple process, and one that validates their position in the society.