The antidote to discouraging news from Afghanistan, most often expressed in casualty figures, may be to speak to someone like Sylvie Dupuis.
Dupuis has just returned from a two-year stint in Kabul as program director of the Vocational Training for Afghan Women Program. The joint venture of CARE Canada and World University Service of Canada teaches Afghan women skills like professional baking, sewing, or even mobile phone and computer repair.
Many are widows, a sadly growing demographic in Afghanistan. In Kabul alone, Dupuis told Metro Ottawa yesterday, there are an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 widows, each supporting an average of five children.
Of the 500 graduates of the program, success stories abound. Dupuis tells of Hamida, a widowed mother of five who now makes enough from her bag-making business to send her children to school, or Jamina, an orphaned girl who now works as a baker and revels in her new skills and status.
“(Jamina) said ‘Now I have a role to play in my family, and I am the ray of hope of these people,’” Dupuis recalled.
In addition to a trade, women learn valuable life skills, everything from literacy, numeracy, nutrition and health, to job interview skills.
Another important aspect of the program, says Dupuis, is getting the women’s families onside with the training. Reactions, she says, have been mostly positive.
“The more we involve them, the more the women gain skill and start to get some revenue, the more the community see the benefits, the more they accept and are supportive,” Dupuis said.
Word of the program’s success has spread, says Dupuis, and it now has a waiting list of 200 women.