Afghanistan: Children in adversity

By Alexis Klaits, Christian Children's Fund development staff member in northern Afghanistan
One year after the Taliban were driven out of northeastern Afghanistan, there has yet to be a dramatic improvement in the lives of rural women. Decades of war, displacement and a deeply conservative social structure have continued to keep the vast majority of women poor, illiterate and at home. Afghanistan suffers from one of world's highest rates of female illiteracy as well as a high rate of deaths during childbirth.

Christian Children's Fund, operating as Child Fund Afghanistan, began working in the strife-torn country in December 2001. Since that time, CCF has made it a priority to assist vulnerable women who live in rural areas in northeastern Afghanistan. CCF aims to provide a measure of immediate assistance to vulnerable women, but more importantly, it seeks to establish structures and mechanisms that will empower women over the long-term.

To this end, CCF provides literacy courses and health training for nearly 20,000 women and girls unable to attend government-run schools. Many communities were initially suspicious of an outside organization interested in providing female teachers with new teaching methodologies and providing educational supplies to female students. Now, however, CCF education monitors are overwhelmed with requests to launch female literacy classes. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the program now--in addition to limited funding--is recruiting qualified teachers in rural areas.

Likewise, CCF health training programs provide uneducated rural women with practical knowledge on topics such as nutrition, preventing communicable diseases, safe food preparation and the use of clean drinking water. This training is strengthened by community development programs to improve women's health.

CCF has built or rehabilitated more than 150 hand-pumps which provide sources of safe drinking water to an estimated 22,000 people. CCF community mobilizers involve women in as many stages of the well construction activities as is culturally acceptable in conservative rural areas. For example, CCF asks a committee of women to select a hidden, yet accessible location for the well within a village, so that it's a place where women feel comfortable collecting water.

CCF, with financial support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also supports the largest microcredit program in northeastern Afghanistan. The income generation program helps 500 rural women begin or revive businesses in carpet weaving, bakeries or tailoring.

These programs help to provide women with a foundation to gain leadership and other skills to exert financial and emotional control over their lives.

Christian Children's Fund
2821 Emerywood Parkway
Box 26484
Richmond, VA 23261-5066