NEW BEGINNINGS: Literacy and Job Training

When Marie Kux visited the Baghe Daoud refugee camp about an hour from Kabul in March 2007, she found the 91 families (about 600 men, women and children) in terrible shape. They were living in squalid and dilapidated former Red Army barracks. They felt abandoned by the international aid agencies and the Afghan government. They had inadequate clothing and little to eat. (Sacks of lentil provided by the government were full of vermin.) A woman and a child had just died from cold. In their despair, the men said they were thinking of suicide or joining the Taliban. They were utterly without hope.

To address their immediate needs, in the winter 2008-09, the Nooristan Foundation arranged for emergency aid in the form of food, blankets, fuel, plastic sheeting, and warm clothing. Believing it important to move beyond humanitarian assistance, we began working with PARSA, an Afghan NGO, toward reintegrating the families into Afghan society. After PARSA’s Afghan social workers spent months talking with the refugees to gain their confidence, the all-male Baghe Daoud council agreed that the women and older girls could attend PARSA-Nooristan sponsored literacy classes. These were held daily between 11 am and 1 pm so that the women could continue their other chores. After some 57 started attending class, another 60 clamored to join and a second class was begun.

In January 2011, the Kuxes visited Baghe Daoud to assess the program and were happy to see how much progress the women had made, how eager they were to read from their textbooks, and how proud they were of their achievement. As one woman stated, “Before we were like blind people. Now we are alive.” They wanted—and we and PARSA heartily agreed—to acquire necessary skills so they could earn money to support their families and not have to depend on handouts. As a result, PARSA has established a job training program which teaches the women skills such as sewing, poultry-raising, vegetable gardening, etc.

We have also arranged for some 60 boys and girls to attend the government school two kilometers away and provided the families with 300 bicycles (distributed by Mrs. Mariam Nawabi during her July 2011 visit to Kabul) as well as uniforms, school bags and books for the children. The attitude of the families has immensely improved since Mrs. Kux’s 2007 visit. They now have hope for a better future for themselves and for their children.