Women of Hope Gives Afghan Women New Lives


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In a globalized, inter-connected world, the tragic plight of women in Afghanistan excluded in a male-dominated Taliban regime inevitably reached and touched the hearts of women from other countries. One of these many women was Betsy Beamon from the United States.

The world changed after September 11th took place and it also ended Beamonís 24-year career in aviation. A trip to Afghanistan during a yearís break from work opened her eyes to the plight of Afghan women and children trapped in a society that provided them with no means to fend or provide for themselves. This eventually led her to set up Women of Hope, a not-for-profit organization that wanted to enable women to be self-sustainable.

Her first project under Women of Hope was a hydroponic project that taught women how to plant their own food. Though that was short-lived because of circumstances, Beamonís passion didnít fade. With a growing community of volunteers and supporters behind her, her perseverance eventually led to her biggest project ever Ė the Embroidery Project.

The Embroidery Project supports more than 1,000 women who hand embroiders products like bookmarks, ornaments, pillow cases, aprons, table linens etc which are sold in the US and Afghanistan. Through Women of Hope, Beamon also established a Learning Center in Kabul, Afghanistan to teach these artisan women how to sell their handmade products, learn literacy as well as start up their own business. Equipping Afghan artisan women with skills that will find them jobs or help them create their own business means that they can in turn invest in their children and families.

Thousands of women have benefited from the Women of Hope project. Sataraís story is one of the many.

From a young age, Satara already had to find means to support her family. Without so much as an education, she managed to get by through the years by begging from door to door for food scraps and small change.

When Satara first came to the Learning Center, she was hoping to sell some pieces of embroidery she made out of old scraps of clothing. The exquisiteness of her handicraft work caught the attention of staff at the Center. Life took a turn for Satara at that point and even though she was simply equipped with the basic necessities required to embroider, such as needles, silk thread and fabric, Satara wept with all her heart because of the new hope she found through Women of Hope.

Today, Satara has earned enough to pay her sisterís way into school, has money for her motherís medical expenditure and sufficient finance for food, clothing and housing. She is also one of the Centerís finest producers.

It is organizations like Women of Hope that have turned stories such as Sataraís from one that is heartbreaking to one that is joy-filled. With work, Satara knows she has a future and new hope in store for her.

Women of Hope handmade products by artisan Afghan women can be found at sites such as The Hunger Site.


U.S. Educational Scholarships for Young Afghan Women


Post September 9/11, lives in the US were forever changed. Elsewhere in the world, lives were changed as well.

Paula Nirschel was an American woman so disturbed by the then new-found knowledge of how Afghan women were forced to be hidden under their burqas during the Talibanís 7-year reign, and that they werenít allowed an education that it made her vow to do something about it. And she did.

Her frustrations and disturbed spirit led to the creation of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW), where she aims to bring education to Afghan women, forever changing their lives for the better.

ďI wanted a group of women to come to America to experience the freedom of education and to strengthen their self-worth, then return home and teach others what they learned in the United States,Ē Paula says.

The Roger Williams University was the first in the US to come forward and support with a full scholarship toward a woman from Afghanistan. Because of Paulaís relentless pursuits for her cause, other universities have since followed suit.

Paula Nirschel, founder of the Initiative to educate Afghan Women with a group of Afghan women on scholarships in the US. Photo: IEAW

 

IEAW is currently the only program that offers US college scholarships for women from Afghanistan, a country that offers limited higher education because of the lack in resources. In a 2010 newsletter from IEAW, it was reported that young Afghan women were being poisoned for attending school. This not only shows that Afghan women were willing to put their lives at stake in order to gain an education, it also tells us that there are strongholds in Afghan mindsets about women in education that have yet to be broken.

The numbers of students enrolled in the program can speak volumes in terms of IEAWís success in its mission. Where in the first year there were only four students in the program, the number now stands at 33 students in 15 colleges or universities for the 2010-2011 academic year. Here are some words from one of the young Afghan student:

ďA successful man/woman is not the one who tries not to fall, but the one who falls and has the courage to stand up and keep walking. Afghans have fallen many times but they are not willing to give up just yet. Every society goes through failures before it produces the leaders who know how to redeem the society. The failure stage is agonizing, sorrowful, dark and pessimistic. It is true that Afghanistan lost everything it ever had during the long days of civil war and foreign invasions. However, people have learned that war is easy to start but hard to end. Our parents are one of those who saw the destruction and abasement that comes with the war. They are the ones who see us as the new hope, the seeds of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. We, the new generation of Afghanistan, intend to empower the vulnerable in the society. Thanks to IEAW, respectful donors, family and friends for their continuous support, love, help and trust.Ē

Fazila will be a senior at Sweet Briar College.

Perhaps we will only see the fruit of education a generation later but by providing an education for these young Afghan women, we have given them, their family and their nation new hope.


Giving Afghan Girls a Chance at Education and Sports


‚ÄúThe low status of women and girls in our society is a major problem. Parents are ready¬† to educate their sons but not their daughters. There are as many boys as girls in Nepal, but fewer girls are able to go to school. Being a girl, they have many household chores to do, and they are compelled to discontinue their education. We feel sad about this discrimination by our parents. The lack of adequate facilities in schools also forces us to drop out from studies ‚Ķ Sexual abuse and harassment on the way to and from school, compel us to drop out of school …‚ÄĚ

-¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Reshmi Chowdhary, 16, Biratnagar Child Club; remarks at the Opening Session, ‚ÄėEquity, Gender and Quality in Education‚Äô Asia-Pacific Technical Meeting of UNGEI Global Advisory Committee, June 2008

Afghan girls studying together. Photo: Oxfam

Afghanistan is one of the five South Asian countries with a formal partnership with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which has done much to influence the Afghan governments’ decisions in policies towards women in education but much is still to be done.

Comparing female adult literacy to male adult literacy, Afghanistan stands at 29 percent, which is really low next to other developing countries such as Bangladesh (82 percent) and India (71 percent).

Statistics shows that due to a congruence of influences and situations, education for women and girls are inevitably affected in the face of natural or manmade disasters such as war and earthquakes. The recent earthquake in Pakistan is one such example.

Such disasters have a way of wiping out schools, and changing lives drastically. Due to the pressing economic and practical needs of their families and communities, women and girls are forced to take on income-generating roles and forego the chance of further education, whichever stage of education they were at. Dangers from natural disasters may also hinder women, girls and educators from travelling to school. Access to schools is further cut off for women and girls who live in remote, mountainous regions, reducing their mobility tremendously.

Tackling with the issue of the gender difference in education is one thing and providing women and girls with the equity of gender is another.

In partnership with UNICEF, a coalition of partners was formed to influence the Afgahnistan government’s policies towards education for women and girls.

Bringing education to young Afghan girls can be challenging yet lots of fun too. A simple yet enjoyable approach that UNGEI took to bring education to young girls is through sports.

Gender restriction on girls’ physical movements has made it difficult for young girls to partake in any form of healthy physical exercises in Afghanistan. In 2009, UNICEF responded to an appeal by a group of girls to play ball sports such as basketball and volleyball in their schools. With the support of various agencies, Girls’ Sports Forum (GSF) was set up.

Sports for these girls mean another form of education and a chance where they can unleash their potential as girls, a chance to allow them play, and a chance to bring them together, enjoying something together.

Afghan girls cheering their teams on. Photo: UNGEI

Through agencies such as UNGEI, women and girls in Afghanistan not only have a chance in obtaining an education but to learn how to play and have fun, through various sports as well, making life a whole lot more meaningful.


Unleash Afghanistanís Potential through Education


Author of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, was once quoted as saying,

Education of the general population is critical to the transformation of Afghanistan’s political and economic condition

Woman learning how to read and write at the Afghanistan Relief Organization. Photo: ARO

Indeed, since civil war has ended, education is one of the programs that non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as the Afghanistan Relief Organization (ARO) place high on their priority to get Afghanistan and its people back on their feet.

ARO runs two education programs in Afghanistan, the Womenís Literacy Program as well as the Rural School Project, targeting women and children respectively in these initiatives.

Given that approximately 75% of schools were ruined because of Afghanistanís 30 years of war, there was an urgent need to rebuild these so that its people can have an education. In 2002, it was projected that 5,574 schools need to be reconstructed or built.

To encourage women into the Womenís Literacy Program and get an education, these Afghan women are given US$50 per month as family support. This program works hand in hand with the Sewing Initiative Program which provides home-based work for these women, encouraging them towards self-sustainability in order to deliver them from the vicious poverty cycle. Without vocational skills, it is hard for women to find any form of work.

Women being trained in vocational skills at the Afghanistan Relief Organization. Photo: ARO

Margaret Stockover, then ARO volunteer and now project leader of the sewing initiative, spoke of her trip in 2004 to visit the women at the Sewing Initiative Program, ďThe amazing thing about Afghan women is their ability to hope in the face of all odds. All they want is a chance. A chance for peace. A chance to provide for their families. A chance to live with some degree of security.Ē

ďThese are women just like usÖlaugh, they cry. They want their children to grow up in a secure environment, with food to eat and a warm place to sleep. The Sewing Initiative seeks out women like these,Ē adds Stockover.

Education gives these women a second chance at life, and an opportunity to better take care of their families.

In support of AROís education efforts to women and children, film producers at Participant Productions and Paramount Vantage made ARO the sponsored NGO for the award-winning film, The Kite Runner, a moving story of that centres around the lives of two young boys growing up in Afghanistan.

In 2007, ARO distributed 500 laptops sponsored by Paramount Classics and DreamWorks Pictures studios to school children in Kabul, Afghanistan. This was an initiative as part of the One Laptop per Child which helps children in developing countries.

Through ongoing support from donors, ARO is able to provide education for women and children to unleash their fullest potential as useful Afghan citizens.


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