Afghan women as agents of change
Since helping to topple the Taliban in late 2001, the United States has spent over one trillion dollars on the war in Afghanistan. The situation on the ground is undoubtedly complex and the seemingly unending conflict has produced profound pain and placed tremendous burden on Afghan women. And yet the women of Afghanistan are far more than voiceless victims. They are resilient agents of change who in spite of unimaginable hardship continue to actively transform and rise above their suffering. As we work for sustainable solutions in Afghanistan, it is vital that we prioritize the empowerment of Afghan women, for their success is a key component of lasting peace in the region. According to the largest data set on the status of women in the world to date countries where women are more empowered are less likely to experience civil conflict or to go to war with their neighbors. “Gender equality is a stronger predictor of a state’s peacefulness than its level of democracy, predominant religion, or gross domestic product (GDP).”
Training women in the Minaret Displaced Persons Camp
The Karadah Project has partnered with The Women’s Education for a Better Tomorrow Organization (WEBTO), an Afghan women-founded nonprofit working hard to support the women of Herat. A UN World Food Program Grant provides the women with food rations to feed themselves and their families as they go through the six-month program.
Nafeesa, a 26-year old woman in the program, began taking the carpet weaving classes four months ago. She shared that she began participating because her husband is addicted to drugs and she must care for her four little boys. “I learned many things from the carpet weaving classes. I now know how to weave the carpet and it helps me to not have to leave my children to go clean homes. I am coming to these classes to learn skills so that I can help my family,” Nafessa shares.
She continues, “We now have an income to buy rice and oils. We learn these skills and get food vouchers. These skills enable us to stay and work at home where we can care for our children. Before the program, we worked in the houses as cleaners and earned very little money. After joining these classes, we can now help our children and save. Thank you for bringing a change in my life!”
Nafeesa’s carpet weaving teacher is confident that as the women gain these skills, Afghan society will be significantly strengthened. “If their husbands are jobless, these women can support their families. Step by step the society can improve. I am an example of an Afghan woman who works. I am a widow and I have seven children. If I don’t work, who will support my family? My children go to school now because of my income.”
By participating in the training programs, many women are also building mental and emotional resilience. Kharzone, a twenty-eight-year-old woman in the tailoring class, expressed, “After attending these classes and spending time with the other women and teachers, I noticed psychological improvement. I can share my problems with the other women and get some help from them...These classes help me to feel strong by being able to work. These classes have empowered me.”
We are on a mission to eliminate poverty. You can partner with us. After completing the training courses, many of the women hope to open a shop and directly sell their products. One hundred more women in Minaret Displaced Persons Camp need your support. For $130.00, you can provide a courageous woman like Nafeesa the skills training she needs to move out poverty into a brighter future full of hope.
Lindsay Stanek is a M.A. candidate at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She is concentrating on international security with a regional focus on the Middle East.
Finding ways to move people out of poverty is challenging in the best of circumstances. It is made even more difficult in areas where civil war, local instability, domestic violence, and other kinds of conflict disproportionately impact women and children. In many conflict areas, women find themselves displaced and living in unfamiliar places— corralled into camps where they often become disadvantaged heads of households because their husbands have died, become disabled, or abandoned them. In other circumstances, husbands may not be able to fully support the family.
Women’s economic participation and their ownership and control of productive assets speeds up development, helps overcome poverty, reduces inequalities and improves children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance. Women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men. (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)
…greater control over household resources by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, can enhance countries’ growth prospects by changing spending in ways that benefit children. (World Bank, 2012)
A key element in eliminating poverty is to find ways to put sustainable resources into the hands of women.
Over the past several decades, aid and development practices have become more focused on accountability, effectiveness, and sustainability; this is leading to better long-term results.
Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war — even with Syria and other conflicts — has fallen by half. (Stephen Radelet)
These are astounding results that should encourage investment in projects that put sustainable resources in the hands of women. Four years ago Karadah Project worked closely with our local Afghan partner, Shindand Women Social Foundation (SWSF), to give goats to women in villages in rural Shindand district. The women are managing their growing herds well — eating some for better nutrition, selling some for family income, and milking the others for both a healthier diet and income for life’s necessities. The lives of these women and their families have been improved significantly through a resource that reproduces itself.
Earlier this year, Karadah Project purchased hens for women in Shindand District and a displaced persons camp in Herat, Afghanistan. Through SWSF we purchased 200 hens that are now providing meat and eggs that improve the health and income of families. Our partner, Women Education for Better Tomorrow Organization (WEBTO), is a local Afghan women-founded nonprofit that is helping women in the five displaced persons camps in and around Herat, Afghanistan. WEBTO helped us distribute 200 hens among some of the displaced women they are working with. As with our successful goat projects, we anticipate our hens will continue to provide a reliable source of better nutrition and increased family income, managed with care and skill by women.
Our partnership with WEBTO is also impacting the lives of hundreds of the displaced women through vocational skills training. After assessments and interviews that determine interests, aptitudes, etc., women participants are provided 6 months of specific skills training in areas such as carpet weaving, sewing, embroidery, cosmetology, and setting up a business. The hardworking women of WEBTO actively negotiate contracts with local businesses that allow the participants to earn as they learn. WEBTO and Karadah Project have also partnered with the UN World Food Program to provide food rations for the women and their families while they are learning. During the past year we have trained 350 women. Our current class holds an additional 100 participants.
Imagine the power unleashed by 450 women with skills and access to markets. Think of the generational impact of mothers passing skills to their daughters.
We are on a mission to eliminate poverty. You can join us.
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LTC (ret) Rick Burns founded Karadah Project to support peace, stability, and humanitarian efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan after Army deployments to those countries. We are helping displaced and disadvantaged women move themselves and their families out of poverty.
A few weeks ago, Rotary International invited me to speak at the Peacebuilding Through Education and Literacy Conference held in Chicago, Illinois. I welcomed the opportunity to share with fellow rotarians some of the challenges facing Afghanistan, but more importantly the impact education has had on the lives of Afghans over the past 15–20 years. The relative security over that period has given rise to a unique generation of men and women who are making a difference in ways unimagined by their parents and grandparents. Over the past almost two decades, young Afghans have benefited from increased education opportunities, expanded travel, and exposure to new ideas. These courageous, smart, and capable women and men are now finding their way into increasingly more responsible leadership positions where they will continue to be a force for stability and peace.
In preparation for my presentation, I asked four Afghan women with whom I work in Afghanistan to share their thoughts on education. I was impressed by their frank and realistic assessment of the great challenges that face their country and inspired by their faith in an Afghanistan remade by educated women, in particular. The following are their thoughts.
The basis for all my social, political, and cultural achievements has been education, knowledge and awareness. Without education, I could not have succeeded as a young woman in the political and cultural arena and as one of the young leaders I could not have played a role in today’s society.
Somaia Ramish just completed her term as an elected member of the Herat Provincial Council. She is also a published poet, was recently awarded a master’s degree in Persian literature from Delhi (India) University, and is a candidate for the Afghanistan Parliament.
When I was in elementary school we immigrated to Iran, because of the repressive Taliban government in Afghanistan. The government of Iran didn’t let Afghan children attend school, but some unapproved private schools opened with tuition fees. The only person who helped me was my mother who only had a 4th grade education. During the day my mother was busy caring for five children and the housework, but at night she took on extra sewing projects to pay for my school fees. My mother helped a little girl and now that girl helps other women. I am really thankful for everything my mother did for me. Educated women can change the world.
Fatima Qattali is director of the Women Education for a Better Tomorrow Organization, an Afghan women founded nonprofit working with disadvantaged women in the displaced persons camps in and around Herat, Afghanistan. She is also an educator, a civil society activist, and committed to improving the education opportunities for girls.
Most of my life, I was either a student or a teacher. When I finished high school in Iran as a refugee, I established a school for Afghan refugee children who were not allowed to go to Iranian schools. I started teaching with 10 students and they became more than 300 after 3 years. Local government and police officials closed my school several times because it was illegal, but I opened it each time until I was finally able to register it with the support of the Afghanistan embassy in Tehran. Actually, everybody knew me in that city because I was communicating and fighting with all the authorities to keep my school open. Afghan parents really supported me because they cared for the future of their children.
Fatema Jafari, is a member of the Herat Provincial Council, a published author, and a civil society activist. In 2016, she completed a year-long fellowship with the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. and Yale University.
I owe my current status to my education. My tertiary education helped me to get a job and advance my career. Financially independent, I reserved the right to make my own decisions while the patriarchal society of Afghanistan pushed back. I went to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship and completed my graduate studies in one of the best universities in the world. As a Stanford alumnus I returned to prestigious jobs — first with UNICEF and then with World Vision International. I have enjoyed my work as an education practitioner and researcher, but I can also choose my life partner myself which often has not been the case for women in previous generations. For a new generation of educated and financially independent Afghan girls this is a possibility. Education has changed Afghan society in many aspects, but of course women have benefited the most as they have found their voice, their agency, and their rights by gaining an education.
Somaye Sarvarzada graduated from Stanford University on a Fullbright scholarship. She is also a civil society activist, Education Lead for World Vision International, and the incoming president of the Herat Rotary Club.
In a world desperately searching for answers to the problems of instability in conflict areas, the lives of these inspiring women should be evidence of the critical importance of investing in education. A short two decades ago, these women would not have been allowed outside their homes unaccompanied. They now run organizations, seek and win public office, speak loudly in public forums, and advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged. They are iteratively changing the face of Afghanistan for the better. If we have the long-term commitment and patience to support them in their efforts, there is hope that peace will return to Afghanistan.
LTC (ret) Rick Burns is founder and president of The Karadah Project International, an Iowa 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation committed to building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Four years ago, Karadah Project International and Shindand Women Social Foundation (SWSF), a local Afghan nonprofit organization, began a partnership to provide goats to fifteen women in each of two villages. Before the participants took ownership of their two does and two kids, they learned the basics of goat care during a four-month training program.
In each village, we centralized the milk processing equipment to economize on cost, simplify training, and give the women a place and reason to meet and share ideas.
After the women completed the training and were successfully managing their growing herd of goats, a surge in Taliban violence made it untenable and dangerous for our program managers to remain in the area. We left the goats in the care of the women and under the protection of the local leaders and monitored the progress of our goats from a distance through them. Due to recent successful clearing operations by Afghan security forces, the Taliban is in retreat in Shindand District. We are excited to again be working closely with our friends there.
The following two charts contain data from the latest audit of our goats in Khairabad and Shorab villages. The herds have been well-managed, allowing the women to eat some, sell others, and milk and breed the balance. The net result is improved nutrition and increased family income.
Our one-time investment in Afghan families perpetually reproduces itself and provides a sustainable means of improved nutrition and increased family income.
THE HENS ARE COMING
Supplementing our successful goat projects, we are now distributing 20 egg-laying hens to ten women in each of our two villages and an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Herat, Afghanistan.
Here’s what a few chickens mean to a family in rural Afghanistan.
SWSF will manage our Khairabad and Shorab village projects in partnership with local village leaders and our women participants. The work SWSF has done with our projects and its own women’s literacy and vocational skills training projects has been exemplary. They have earned both our trust and confidence. We are grateful for their hard work, expertise, and friendship.
The Women’s Education for a Better Tomorrow Organization (WEBTO) will lead our hen distribution in Minaret IDP camp. WEBTO is an Afghan women-founded organization doing incredible work in helping disadvantaged and displaced women gain the necessary vocational skills to lift themselves out of poverty. Beginning on April 1, 2018, WEBTO and Karadah Project are also partnering on a six-month vocational training program in the Minaret IDP camp.
SWSF has begun the purchase of 200 hens and the selection of participants in Khairabad. WEBTO has also started the process of setting up our Minaret IDP camp project. The Karadah Project is currently raising funds for the Shorab village hen project to complete our initial hen distributions.
We intend to expand our livestock operations to include more displaced and disadvantaged women in Herat Province. Women are among the most vulnerable in rural areas and in IDP camps. Their opportunities are limited, nevertheless, many have become heads of households because their husbands have died, are disabled, or have abandoned them. Whatever the circumstances, these families find it difficult to rise above their poverty. It is a heart-rending experience to select only a few women out of so many who are in need. WEBTO and Karadah Project are committed to supporting these courageous women’s efforts to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Far from being powerless, these are women of great fortitude, courage, and resourcefulness. Their lives are tragically difficult; of that there is no doubt. They are survivors, however, and demonstrate quiet daily heroism and dignity in their humble circumstances. Through our goat projects they have proven that with a small investment, they have the capacity to improve their lives and lift themselves out of extreme poverty. With your help, we can support more of these women.
UNDER SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS STEVE GOLDSTEIN PRESENTS CITIZEN DIPLOMACY AWARD TO COUNCIL BLUFFS SISTER CITIES ASSOCIATION
WASHINGTON, DC (January 24, 2018) – Sister Cities International congratulates one of its members, the Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association, on receiving the Bureau of Public Affair’s annual Citizen Diplomacy award. Steve Goldstein, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, will present the award at a ceremony to be held at 4pm on Monday, January 29, 2018, at the U.S. Department of State. The Citizen Diplomacy Award was created in recognition of American citizens and organizations engaged in international work that furthers U.S. foreign policy objectives and strengthens important relationships around the globe.
The Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association (CBSCA) has fostered over 30 years of citizen diplomacy, with four sister cities on three contents. CBSCA has collaborated with its respective sister cities on initiatives such as humanitarian assistance, language development, professional education, and the celebration of culture for better understanding between communities. The Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association serves as an effective ambassador for U.S. values on a global stage and as a bridge to U.S. innovation, investment, support, and resources for its sister cities.
The awards presentation will be open to the press. For the ceremony, pre-set time for cameras is 3:15 p.m. from the C Street entrance. Media representatives may attend these events upon presentation of one of the following: (1) A U.S. Government-issued identification card (Department of State, White House, Congress, Department of Defense or Foreign Press Center), (2) a media-issued photo identification card, or (3) a letter from their employer on letterhead verifying their employment as a journalist, accompanied by an official photo identification card (driver's license, passport).
For more information, please contact Irina Karmanova at KarmanovaIA2@state.gov.
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About Sister Cities International
Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International serves as the national membership organization sister city programs in over 500 communities, with relationships in 2,000 communities in 145 countries. This sister city network unites tens of thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers who work tirelessly to promote peace and understanding through programs and projects focusing on arts and culture, youth and education, economic and sustainable development, and humanitarian assistance.
Facebook: SisterCitiesInternational; CBSisterCities1
Twitter: @SisterCitieslnt; Instagram: @SisterCitiesInt;
At a 1956 summit on citizen diplomacy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said citizen diplomacy “is the most worthwhile purpose in the world today: to help build the road to peace, to help build the road to an enduring peace.” I think as President Eisenhower contemplated all that he had experienced as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and as president during the Cold War, he had in mind partnerships with cities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, South Sudan, and other places where peace is so desperately sought and always just out of reach. These are places where partnerships are hard and challenging, but where the hope of citizen diplomacy shines brightest; where the need is greatest and the impact is felt deeply. These are places where the work is tough, but the rewards the sweetest.
History has proven that in the face of great evil, ordinary people rise up to do extraordinary things. These ordinary people deserve both our respect and our support. If we are not careful, however, we will dismiss or overlook these modern-day super heroes. The rhetoric of the day declares whole peoples irredeemable and not worthy of our finite resources. By not recognizing and supporting the efforts of these grassroots champions of good, we miss opportunities to defeat the enemies of civil society. We all lose, then.
Consider my friend, Mohameed Alrubaye, an elected member of the Baghdad Provincial Council. I first met Mohameed while deployed in 2008 with the US Army to Karadah, a southeast Baghdad sub district. Mohameed served as the chairman of the Karadah District Council, which represents the approximately 200,000 citizens of Karadah. He was a force of nature, deftly and openly leading in an insecure environment where assassinations and kidnapping of influential people were common. Before I left Karadah in late 2008, we worked together to form a Sister Cities International partnership between Karadah and Council Bluffs, Iowa. That partnership is a lasting legacy to Mohameed’s ability to reach out to people and form working partnerships. He has now taken his leadership skills to the Baghdad Provincial Council where he now serves.
Mohameed has worked hard to bridge divides within Baghdad society. Using his influence, he is reaching out to Iraqi minorities. Mohameed could easily be successful without the support of Christians in Baghdad. At great personal risk, however, he feels it is important to create an inclusive community where all feel welcome and secure. This is against a backdrop of an intolerant and brutal Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) organization whose stated mission is to annihilate any opposition to its narrowly defined religious ideology. Mohameed said,
I have relationships with all the Christian priests,
my brothers, and the Church. I’ve attended
their special occasions and holidays for more
than 20 years.
Mohameed has used his influence to encourage fellow Muslim leaders and police officials to join him at Christian religious celebrations to build critical relationships. Mohameed said about the linked video below:
This video brings me to tears, singing the Iraqi national anthem with my
Christian and Muslim brothers and praying together for Iraq.
Iraqi Christians and Muslims praying together. That is certainly not an image we see often. These important relationships are being forged with tenacity and courage by modern-day super heroes. They operate, usually, below the radar of most media coverage. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I am honored and humbled to call many of them personal friends.
Karadah Project International, a nonprofit committed to building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, partners with Sister Cities International, Rotary International, Kiwanis International, Veterans for American Ideals, and other civic organizations to seek out and work with these ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
LTC (retired) Rick Burns is founder and president of The Karadah Project International, an Iowa 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation working in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a proud member of the Council Bluffs Iowa Sister Cities International Board of Directors, US Global Leadership Coalition — Iowa Advisory Committee, Atlantic Iowa Rotary Club, Elk Horn Iowa American Legion, Kiwanis of Lansing, Kansas, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and founding member of Soccer Salam; all organizations making positive and significant impacts on the world.
I founded Karadah Project International because of the unique and personal experiences I had with the extraordinary people I met while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. These experiences, past and present, with people who are courageously fighting for peace and stability in their communities inspire and animate me. While geographically in faraway places, refugees, displaced persons, and others suffering under the chaos of war are never far from my thoughts and concerns.
As a small organization, I’m grateful for the power of partnerships with other organizations filled with people who share my passion for supporting the efforts of good people making a difference in the world. One of these organizations is Rotary International, but more specifically individual Rotary Clubs spread all over the world.
In a world that seems hell-bent on its own destruction, there has never been a greater need for citizen diplomacy. That is not to say that we do not need a strong military and a strong diplomatic corps. Both of these are necessary in the world we have created and provide unheralded and heroic service to our nation and to the world through their service. There is a role, however, for active public diplomacy conducted by citizens. Indeed, citizen diplomacy both strengthens and is complementary to our professional diplomatic and military efforts.
I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a US Army soldier. That experience made me acutely aware of the complexity of those conflicts. Context is the most difficult thing to grasp. At once, there is both violence, corruption and all of the challenges innate in an insecure and war-weary area of the world, and there is also courage, virtue, selflessness, and evolving opportunities unavailable in previous years. To ignore this context is to miss some truly amazing progress being made by the people who you will never see on the evening news. Consider, for example, that there have never been more girls attending school in the history of Afghanistan. Today, nearly 20 percent of Afghans enrolled in higher education are women. There are 3,000 women-owned businesses and associations in Afghanistan. Women-founded nonprofit organizations are taking care of many of the needs of their communities. Women are serving in leadership roles at all levels of government. These women are courageously and optimistically moving Afghanistan forward toward better days.
Karadah Project International
The Karadah Project International is an Iowa 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation committed to building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.