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Two afghan women get to grips with shop signs

©WFP/Susannah Nicol
By Susannah Nicol

KHAMZARGAR, Afghanistan, 3 March 2009  As I enter the house in this village north of Kabul, Maqbolah, 30, is reading out loud from a book to her fellow women students. She seems to be enjoying herself.

This is the first time that this mother of 10 has been to school or had any training. She is participating in a WFP-supported vocational training project which enables women to learn a skill - sewing in this case - and attend a literacy class.

'I won't feel ashamed'

"I am eager to learn to read because when I go to the bazaar I will know what things say," she says. "When I am looking for a doctor or a clothes shop I will be able to read the sign. I won't end up in the wrong shop and feel ashamed." She is also delighted at the prospect that money she can earn from sewing will help her family to survive. She has ten children.

© WFP/Susannah Nicol
I leave Maqbolah reading and follow her elder sister, Mojigul, who is a widow and has six children living with her, all of school age. I ask her how old she is, but before telling me, she asks me to look at her lined face and shows me her hard, cracked hands and feet the result of a lifetime spent digging weeds in the fields. They are the hands and feet of an elderly woman but she is only 50.

A whizz with a sewing machine

Mojigul has never received any formal education either. She tells me that learning to read and write is helpful. But, unlike her younger sister, she becomes most animated when talking about sewing. Her favourite new skill is cutting materials into patterns. She's also a bit of a whizz on the sewing machine.

"I prefer sewing to working outside, because I can sit," she explains. "It's a clean job and I don't have to use my hands and feet in the fields. I think it's healthier for me."

The literacy and the skills training are possible due to a partnership between WFP and an NGO called Women for Women International, which encourages women abroad to donate US$15 per month to sponsor women students in Afghanistan and elsewhere. For the first six months of training a food ration is supplied by WFP, given as both an incentive to enrol and also to cover the seasonally lean months.


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