By Winter Johnson
Ever since U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021, which led to a new government taking over the country, HOPE worldwide Afghanistan has found itself amid intensified turmoil in a country already plagued by decades of war.
There are 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees worldwide, with another 3.5 million who are internally displaced and searching for refuge in their own country, looking to flee from conflict, economic crisis, violence, starvation and poverty. Women and their freedoms have been hit hard with bans from education, many professions, public spaces and more recently, the closing of female-centred beauty salon businesses.
Despite the conflict, HOPE worldwide Afghanistan has focused on providing employable skills to youths in Kabul, such as English language and computer skills.
Recently, I sat down with Amruthavalli Mahaveer, Country Director for HOPE worldwide Afghanistan, who visited Kabul earlier this year:
HOPE worldwide UK: Describe your emotions leading up to and during your trip.
Amruthavalli: The purpose of my trip in February was to visit our community centre and monitor and evaluate our training programme, in addition to taking care of mandatory documentation for the Bank and Government.
I left home at 3 a.m., kissed my children, prayed in my heart for God to protect them and protect me throughout the trip. I prayed for God to help me come back home safe because I want to see my children grow.
Once I left home, my mind filled with ‘what if’ questions like:
‘What if I went missing?
‘I am traveling alone; will they allow me inside the country without a blue burka?’
‘Will I see my family again?’
‘Even though I have all of my documents right, will the government stop me or not allow me to travel back?’
These questions sound silly and weird now, but they were very real fears.
HWWUK: Tell us about your visit.
Amruthavalli: This last visit was very different from all my other visits. I was grateful to have been granted a visa, since most women in Afghanistan are no longer allowed to work.
I could hardly sleep my first night at the hotel in Kabul, because I could hear people talking outside my room. After much hesitation and speculation, I opened the door to see what was going on outside my room.
That’s when I saw there was an armed guard stationed outside my hotel room. All the other guests on my floor were men, many of them businessmen from mining industries. I was the only female guest in the hotel in Kabul. I was confused, whether I should feel safe that an armed guard was outside my room or worried that I am the only female guest in the entire hotel. I couldn’t sleep well for the entire trip.
HWWUK: What are the main struggles facing people who benefit from our programmes?
Amruthavalli: I was very sad to think of the future of our students. There is hopelessness and uncertainty of what the future holds for them. With many organizations and private companies closed, the future looks very bleak. Jobs are very difficult to get. Many experienced in government work have lost their jobs to those who have been with the new government for a long time.
Higher education or education abroad is only getting more and more difficult. This is just the situation in the capital city; the unemployment in the provinces is worse. Many government departments in the provinces have not recruited or operated since August 2021. Although the students are learning English and computer skills at the community centre, they are worried about what their future holds. There is a high demand for experienced and trained professionals as majority of the workforce left the country, and at the same time wages have been halved compared to the past government, which is very disheartening.
HWWUK: For those who have never been to Afghanistan, what would you like to share with them about the country and our programmes?
Amruthavalli: The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is a beautiful country with pleasant weather for six months but very cold winters. Pomegranates, apples, melons, and grapes are exported to other countries from Afghanistan. The country’s dried fruits, Persian carpets and saffron are world famous.
Afghans love to spend time with their families. They teach love and respect towards God and the elders. While men focus on earning, women are the homemakers and decisionmakers of the family. Afghans are very loyal friends to one another, and they are willing to die for their friends.
HOPE worldwide Afghanistan was established and registered as an international charitable organization in April 2001. Since 2012, our focus has been to train the youth in employable skills. HOPE worldwide Afghanistan has a community centre, where we currently have 135 students enrolled in English language skills and computer skills. Over the last 10 years, we have trained 1045 youth in English language and computer skills.
Plans are underway to start a sewing and tailoring centre for those who are unable to pursue an education. With the training, they can begin their own business from their homes and generate income to support their families.
HWWUK: What do the people of Afghanistan need most, in your opinion?
Amruthavalli: Because of the change in the government since August 2021, the future of Afghan youth and children looks very uncertain.
With the restriction on women’s employment, the ban on girls’ education post primary school, government employees receiving a pay cut of 50 percent, and the uncertainty of new jobs in the market, there is poverty and fear that the country will regress to the way it was run 23 years ago. People need skills training, which will help them to start small businesses. These courses, namely tailoring, beautician courses, carpentry, plumbing, construction, masonry, etc. would help many of them to return to their villages and be able to earn once they have mastered their skills.
Employment, skill development training and micro-finance for setting up small businesses is the need of the hour.
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