Jahedah* is a tailor in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is a skill she learned while participating in War Child’s Afghan Women’s Community Support Project. She has taught her unemployed husband to help out with her small business. In one of the two family rooms she has two sewing machines – one for her, one for him.
Jahedah’s priority is her children’s education. War Child runs early childhood development programming and she has seen the tremendous difference it has made to her children. Her daughter, Aliah, completed the program last year and is now in first grade. “I am not worried about Aliah anymore,” Jahedah tells us proudly. “She used to be so shy but now she is so responsible. She gets herself ready for school in the morning and always does her homework. Once a week I check her school-work in her notebook. Her teacher told me that she would be lucky if all her students were like her.”
Aliah walks half an hour each morning to school. She is a good student and was recently placed third in her class of 55 for the mid-term exams. “I go to school at 6am and come home at 10am. My favourite subjects are arithmetic and Dari. My school teacher likes my handwriting very much because I write very nicely.”
“Seeing these changes in my daughter,” says Jahedah, “made me determined to send my youngest son to the childhood development program.”
Aliah’s baby brother, Nasir, is four-years-old and, thanks to the program, can already count up to 20. He is not afraid to talk to anyone about his hopes and dreams. “I want to become a doctor, so that I can help the police when they are sick.” His mother explains that he once saw a doctor treating an injured policeman. She is delighted that he is so interested in his classes. “He always says, ‘what are Thursdays and Fridays [the weekend] for? I am at home and I get bored. I want to be in my class these days, too!’”
Nasir’s teacher has also noticed how enthusiastic he is about learning. “He is very talented – he is always the first to raise his hand when I ask a question.”
The Aghan Women’s Community Support Project creates opportunities for the most impoverished women in Kabul and Jalalabad. There are classes in literacy, numeracy, life skills and vocational training. In this last phase of the project, the women have access to microfinance loans to open a small business, as well as business development support to develop a market for their goods. Through the program, women like Jahedah who were previously destitute are now able to provide for their children’s future.
Jahedah knows exactly what she wants to do next. “I am saving money right now to build another room in my house, so that my children have enough space to study in quiet and not be disturbed by the sound of the sewing machines. When I build a basement in my house, I will make a tailoring centre where many women can work. I need more money next year for my children’s education – so I need to work more.”
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Lisa Piper is War Child’s Country Director in Afghanistan.
* All names in this article have been changed.