Fighting the odds: new programs keep education alive for Afghan girls

Take a moment and imagine what it’s like to be a girl or young woman living in Afghanistan today…

Even before the Taliban took control of your country last summer, the odds of learning to read or pursuing a career were stacked against you. Assuming you are one of the millions of girls who live in a remote, rural area, education was already most likely not an option due to an insufficient number of teachers and schools where you live. Or perhaps ongoing war made it too risky for you to travel to and from the nearest school.

On top of that, you’ve probably been confined by conservative cultural norms – which have long prevailed outside of cities – that relegate you to the domestic realm and prioritize education for boys. If you did go to school, you likely were unable to advance beyond a few years and were forced to drop out, perhaps even to marry at an early age.

If you were lucky enough to have reached high school, the new ban on girls’ secondary education has likely dashed your dreams of continuing your education. Or if you were luckier still to be attending university, new rules requiring you to be educated by a female teacher may mean you can no longer attend your classes and complete your degree because there’s no female professor to teach your class.

And if you are any one of the 3.7 million Afghan females who had beaten the odds and were enrolled in school before the Taliban took control, you’re probably bewildered by why you – an innocent child who longs only to read books or study math, or to become a teacher or doctor – are so threatening to a group of men armed with guns and bombs.

Most of us may find it hard to imagine how girls and young women in Afghanistan muster the strength to keep going; to keep fighting to beat the odds. Yet at CAI, we are amazed and deeply inspired by what we are seeing in Afghanistan today: despite the odds, Afghan girls are fighting harder than ever to pursue an education.

Afghan girls in a tent school

That is why we are more determined than ever before to stand with them.

Thanks to your generosity, this spring, Central Asia Institute is doubling down on efforts to support education programs for girls and young women in Afghanistan.

Working closely with our local Afghan partners, CAI is focused on investing in projects that will safeguard access to education – ensuring thousands of girls and young women living in remote, impoverished regions of the country have the opportunity to pursue an education.

pattern

Our strategic priorities include:

  1. Working with local communities, to ensure their buy-in and meet the demand for education that is still prevalent among village leaders, clerics, parents, and children in so many places.
  2. Prioritizing programs that reach remote, underserved districts and villages with the largest number of out-of-school girls – whether they have never gone to school or were forced to drop out.
  3. Holding classes in secure, discreet environments where girls can be educated in smaller groups and away from prying eyes.
  4. Recruiting and training women from the community to become teachers, and providing learning materials, textbooks, and school supplies.
pattern

YOUR IMPACT

Thanks to you, as spring gets underway, approximately 4,200 children – more than half of whom are girls – are being enrolled in over 140 community-based schools supported by CAI. These classes will accommodate both primary school-aged children and older girls who will benefit from accelerated learning programs to help them catch up with their peers.

CAI is also working to meet the urgent need for more, better-trained teachers. We are prioritizing female teachers given the Taliban’s rules on female-only instruction for girls. In the coming weeks, approximately 140 women and men who’ve been recruited from the communities where these classes are located will be trained to become teachers. This support offers them the opportunity to not only pursue a profession but also earn an income at a time when their country is facing an economic crisis and poverty is rife. In addition, CAI is supporting training for an additional 320 teachers at local government schools in these areas to improve the quality of education the children living in remote villages receive.

Looking to the future:

Given the enormous challenges that have arisen over the past six months since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban seized control, we couldn’t be more committed to these programs or more thankful to you for making them possible.

At the same time, CAI and our local partners are well aware that new challenges and obstacles are likely to arise in the future. If anything, our 20-plus years of experience working in Afghanistan has taught us to be prepared for adversity, skilled at adapting, and resilient in the pursuit of our mission. In the coming months, we’ll do our best to keep you posted on the progress of our programs and changes on the ground. In the meantime, we are always here to answer any questions you might have.

Once again, we are so deeply grateful for your steadfast commitment to Central Asia Institute, and the people we serve. Thanks to you, Afghan girls can again dream of a better, brighter future. 

Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions that you might have. You can reach us at info@centralasiainstitute.org or 406-585-7841.

Women’s education and CAI programming: What does the future hold?

Updated December 9, 2021

In the past several months, many of you have contacted us to ask pressing questions. What’s the latest news from Afghanistan? What is the situation regarding Afghan girls’ education and Afghan women’s right to work? How have recent events impacted schools and students supported by Central Asia Institute? Will Central Asia Institute continue to work in Afghanistan?

Below we tackle these questions – and also share what Central Asia Institute is doing to help thanks to your caring and support.

We are deeply grateful for all who have expressed your concerns and/or donated to support CAI’s efforts in Afghanistan. Your generosity, words of encouragement, and support bolster our spirits and reassure our Afghan friends that they’re not alone in this dark time.

What is the current situation in Afghanistan?

Four months since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, its people continue to face a precarious future. When the U.S. evacuated in mid-August, the humanitarian situation was already serious due to the compounding impacts of conflict, the persistence of COVID-19, and a second year of severe drought.

Alarmingly, the situation has only worsened since then. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced during 2021 are facing dire conditions as winter sets in. The economy – which was almost entirely dependent on foreign aid – is in crisis pushing the majority of the population below the poverty line. Government employees including the police, healthcare workers, and teachers, have not been paid and in many places, basic services like healthcare and education are unavailable. As winter sets in, more than 22 million people are struggling to put food on their tables and an estimated 3.2 million children face life-threatening, acute malnutrition.

To address this, donor countries have pledged over a billion dollars in humanitarian aid, and the United Nations and international aid groups are scrambling to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance. To avoid catastrophe and save lives, the Taliban and the international community will need to work together with the best interests of millions of innocent people in mind.

What is CAI doing to help?

CAI has been working closely with its local partners to address the greatest needs of the Afghan people. In November, we launched a project to assist displaced women, men, and children who fled with few, if any, belongings and are living in makeshift shelters in informal displacement sites as winter conditions set in. Three hundred vulnerable families were identified and provided with key essentials including mats, blankets, cooking utensils, and books, pencils, and toys for their children.

Bags of supplies for displaced families

Emergency aid kits – including blankets, mattresses, backpacks, toys, and books – ready for distribution.

Girl carrying baby in refugee camp

Displaced young girl and baby who are living in a camp for displaced people.

Women standing in line for supplies

Women and children waiting in line to receive an emergency aid kit.

Families receiving emergency kits

Families claiming their emergency aid kits provided by Central Asia Institute. 

Over the winter months, our support will continue to target the most vulnerable people including children, people with disabilities, and pregnant and lactating women. An additional  360 households (approximately 2,500 people) will receive winterization assistance including fuel to heat their homes, winter clothing, and blankets.

What’s the latest news regarding girls’ education and a woman’s right to work?

Afghan woman in burqa

Taliban leadership is allowing girls to attend primary school. Older girls, however, are not so fortunate. In September, the Taliban stated that boys could return to secondary school (6th grade and up) but girls must stay home until certain conditions for girls’ education could be worked out. Since then, the spokesman for the Taliban has reiterated that the new government supports girls’ education and will provide opportunities for girls and women to work and go to school. But the Taliban leadership has yet to announce when and under what conditions older girls will be allowed to return to middle and high school saying only that their religious scholars “are working on it.”

In the meantime, limitations have already been placed on female students – including that they must be educated separately from boys and taught by a female teacher. Given the country’s lack of all-female schools and female secondary school teachers, these restrictions threaten to put school out of reach for many Afghan girls.

Universities opened on September 5th. Women in some regions have been allowed to attend as long as they comply with gender-based education restrictions. In addition, women attending university are being forced to adhere to strict dress codes – they must wear burqas or long, black abayas that cover their entire bodies, gloves to cover their hands, and a niqab over their faces, leaving just their eyes uncovered. In some regions, there are reports that women are being turned away from university altogether. Others have been told they cannot take certain classes, like engineering, government studies, or courses that would lead to a career path “unsuitable for women.” Unfortunately, it looks like even restricted access to education may become unavailable to women moving forward. On September 28, the new Chancellor for Kabul University announced that women would be banned from the institution either as instructors or students. Many women fear that it is only a matter of time before the Taliban completely bar them from education.

How have recent events impacted schools and students supported by Central Asia Institute?

Young Afghan girl in classroom

Our education programs for pre-school and primary school-aged children, including community-based education, wound up in November. At present, Central Asia Institute’s education projects are on hold while we work to ensure that procedures are in place to address risks and challenges that have arisen under the new Taliban regime. In the meantime, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance targeting the most vulnerable, especially children and women.  With pressure building both on the Taliban to allow all girls to attend school and women to work, and on donor governments to ensure that restrictions on assistance don’t end up further harming women and girls, we remain hopeful that access to education for all Afghans will improve in the coming months.

Will Central Asia Institute continue to work in Afghanistan?

Right now, the greatest concern is the humanitarian situation as described above. CAI and our partners are working hard to meet the most urgent needs of the Afghan communities we’ve long served. We’re fortunate to work directly through local Afghan partners, who can tell us what they’re seeing and hearing as conditions on the ground change. These organizations have a history of working in districts under Taliban control and have experience safely and effectively delivering humanitarian and development assistance. With their guidance and support, we will continue to do all we can to address the needs of those who have been impacted by this crisis.

Although our programs may require modification, or stop and start, we’re committed to standing with our Afghan sisters and brothers for as long as we’re able. Their bravery and determination to fight for a better future for themselves and their children motivate and inspire us daily.  

Have other questions we didn’t address?

CAI is committed to keeping our supporters informed about the evolving situation on the ground and how we are responding, and we welcome your inquiries! To dive deeper, please connect with us via email at info@centralasiainstitute.org or phone at 406.585.7841. We look forward to speaking with you.

Resources: How to help Afghans

*Reference in this site is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by Central Asia Institute.

Your dollars at work in Afghanistan

It’s been nearly four months since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and the Afghan people continue to face incomprehensible hardship and an uncertain future. 

With your support, we are lending a helping hand in this time of tremendous need. We’ve begun distributing emergency assistance to 300 displaced families – primarily women and children – forced to flee conflict and drought with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Thanks to you, as winter arrives, these families will have mats to sleep on, blankets for warmth, utensils for cooking, and books, pencils, and toys for their children. 

Bags of supplies for displaced families

Emergency aid kits – including blankets, mattresses, backpacks, toys, and books – ready for distribution.

Girl carrying baby in refugee camp

Displaced young girl and baby who are living in a camp for displaced people.

Women standing in line for supplies

Women and children waiting in line to receive an emergency aid kit.

Families receiving emergency kits

Families claiming their emergency aid kits provided by Central Asia Institute. 

For more information on the current situation in Afghanistan, please visit our FAQs page.

Your generosity makes a difference, and we are grateful. Thank you for your support and for continuing to keep the people of Afghanistan in your thoughts and prayers.

Meet one of the 81 teachers you helped last year

When Umeed Primary School in remote Pakistan ran into financial difficulty, Ghulam Nabi continued teaching. For nearly a year, he worked without pay.

Thanks to your support on Giving Tuesday last year, CAI was able to step in and reinstate Ghulam’s salary. Giving Tuesday is a national day of charitable giving celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. In 2020 CAI used Giving Tuesday to draw attention to the extreme hardship that teachers face in remote, impoverished regions of Central Asia. Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we raised more than $120,000 to pay Ghulam’s salary as well as the annual salaries of 80 other teachers.

“Teaching gives me satisfaction that cannot be purchased with money.” Ghulam Nabi

Teacher in classroom with students

You supported quality education

In addition to receiving his salary, Ghulam was selected to attend a CAI-sponsored capacity-building workshop that focused on improving classroom teaching practices. Being selected for the workshop was a real confidence booster. “I truly enjoyed the entire training session,” he says.

You and the other caring donors who contributed to last year’s Giving Tuesday should feel proud of the role you played in changing lives. You improved Ghulam’s life as well as the lives of another 80 teachers. Your gift helped to make quality education possible for girls and boys born into this remote, impoverished corner of Central Asia.

Ghulam turns philosophical when describing the impact of the funding. “I believe that with the help of such support, one day I will be able to bring my family out of extreme poverty and lead them to a prosperous life ahead.

“When we believe in tomorrow’s prosperity, we get the courage to endure today’s hardships.”

Teacher with boy at black board

Help us impact 100 teachers

Next Tuesday, November 30th, we’re counting on you to once again. Help turn Giving Tuesday into Teacher Tuesday. Last year we impacted 81 teachers. This year we’re raising the bar and setting our goal at $153,600 which will cover the salaries of 100 teachers.

Thanks to your love for education, last year’s Giving Tuesday campaign was a huge success. In this season of coming together, we hope you’ll open your heart again and help us transform Giving Tuesday into Teacher Tuesday. We can’t do it without you!

Why wait – donate today

Together we can replicate the impact of last year’s Giving Tuesday—and surpass it. No need to wait for November 30th. 

Giving Tuesday logo

Giving Tuesday is a national day of giving, celebrated on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Giving Tuesday donations to CAI are used to create positive change through education in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.

Together, we turned Giving Tuesday into Teacher Tuesday

When Umeed Primary School in remote Pakistan ran into financial difficulty, Ghulam Nabi continued teaching. For nearly a year, he worked without pay.

On Giving Tuesday 2020, Central Asia Institute seized on this national day of charitable giving to draw attention to the extreme hardship that Ghulam and so many other teachers living in mountainous, impoverished communities face. We reached out to our friends and supporters to ask them to help pay teachers’ salaries. And boy did they respond! We directed the $120,000+ in funds we raised to our overseas partners including in Pakistan. They, in turn, sent funds to Umeed Primary where Ghulam was teaching. His salary was paid, as well as the annual salaries of 80 other teachers in remote Central Asia.

“Teaching gives me satisfaction that cannot be purchased with money.” Ghulam Nabi

After graduation Ghulam was hired as a sweeper in a private primary school in the remote village of Chunda in Pakistan’s Skardu district. Schools are few and far between in this part of the world. The schools that do exist lack funding. While cleaning the floors, Ghulam would stop to help students with their studies. The school management took note. Impressed by the young man’s knowledge and interest in the students, they offered Ghulam an assistant teacher position at the school.

Teacher in classroom with students

“This not only made me feel really appreciated and encouraged but was also a moment of extreme happiness for me,” says Ghulam. “I promised myself and the management to work hard to fulfill their expectations and contribute to the best of my level in the role of teacher.”

Ghulam’s salary was cut when the school went through a funding crisis. “Even though I was very disappointed, I chose to continue my teaching service on a voluntary basis for the future of those children,” he explains. “Teaching gives me satisfaction that cannot be purchased with money!”

But feeling satisfied at work doesn’t put food on the table. Ghulam was barely hanging on financially. He and dozens of other teachers caught in the same situation needed help.

“When we believe in tomorrow’s prosperity, we get the courage to endure today’s hardships.”

We reached out to our community of donors to raise funding for teacher support on a national day of charitable giving called Giving Tuesday. We used last year’s Giving Tuesday campaign to draw attention to the extreme hardship that teachers face in mountainous, impoverished regions of Central Asia, and raised more than $120,000. We sent funds to our partner in Pakistan. They, in turn, sent funds to Umeed Primary where Ghulam was teaching. His salary was paid, as well as the annual salaries of another 80 teachers in remote Central Asia.

Giving Tuesday supported quality education

In addition to receiving his salary, Ghulam was selected to attend a CAI-sponsored capacity-building workshop that focused on improving classroom teaching practices. Being selected for the workshop was a real confidence booster. “I truly enjoyed the entire training session,” he says.

The Giving Tuesday funds were a lifeline for Ghulam and the other 80 teachers. Those funds made quality education possible for girls and boys born into this remote, impoverished corner of the world. Supporting teachers allowed the children to continue on their education path.

Ghulam turns philosophical when describing the impact of the funding. “I believe that with the help of such support, one day I will be able to bring my family out of extreme poverty and lead them to a prosperous life ahead.”

Teacher with boy at black board

Help us impact 100 teachers

The Giving Tuesday funds were a lifeline for Ghulam and the other 80 teachers. Those funds made quality education possible for girls and boys born into this remote, impoverished corner of the world. Supporting teachers allowed the children to continue to learn.

Next Tuesday, November 30th, we invite you to help us turn Giving Tuesday into Teacher Tuesday. Last year we impacted the lives of 81 teachers. This year we’re raising the bar and setting our goal at $153,600, which will cover the salaries of 100 teachers.

Show your support for education this coming Tuesday by contributing to CAI’s Giving Tuesday campaign. By doing so, you’ll not only help pay the salaries of 100 female and male teachers, but also keep the hope for a better tomorrow alive for them and their students.

Why wait – donate today

Together we can replicate the impact of last year’s Giving Tuesday—and surpass it. No need to wait for November 30th. 

Giving Tuesday logo

Giving Tuesday is a national day of giving, celebrated on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Giving Tuesday donations to CAI are used to create positive change through education in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.

Executive Statement: 9/11 – 20 Years Later

Mourning what we lost, remembering what we gained

This Saturday, September 11, 2021, America will commemorate those who lost their lives 20 years ago during a series of terrorist attacks on the United States. This year, the pain will be particularly acute when coupled with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban – which once harbored Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Twenty years later, we’re able to reflect on the terrible toll the war has taken on us all. More than 70,000 members of the U.S., NATO, and Afghan armed forces lost their lives, along with close to 50,000 civilians caught in the crossfire. And, in August, when the last allied troops left Kabul, they diminished the hope of a free and democratic Afghanistan.

While the weight of this moment is heavy on our hearts, Central Asia Institute is also looking back on two decades of work in Afghanistan knowing that the seeds of hope and change that took root during this time were not in vain. There is an entire generation of educated Afghan women who have arisen in the past two decades – they are both proof and hope of what remains possible.  They will play a vital role in the future of Afghanistan.

In the past 20 years, enormous strides have been made in Afghan women’s and girls’ access to education, jobs, and political participation. Most notably, literacy rates among girls have doubled. According to a recent report, by 2018, an estimated 3.8 million girls were enrolled in primary school, a vast increase from the estimated 5,000 girls enrolled in 2001.

Since 2001, the number of female teachers had also grown to approximately one-third of the nation’s teachers, and we saw improvements in women’s participation in the Afghan Parliament, police, and the judiciary. There are also more women-run businesses and more women employed than there were 20 years ago. While surely not significant enough, these are nonetheless important milestones of progress.

In short, since 2001, millions of Afghan women and girls have been empowered to fulfill their dreams, reach their full potential, and contribute to a better, brighter future for themselves and their families. And while the U.S. may have lost its “longest war,” each life changed by education has been a victory. Even as we reflect on the past, we must not lose sight of the myriad challenges that lie ahead – and the role Afghan women will play in their solution.

It is true that Afghanistan’s women and girls face a dark future. Yet, as I write, women across Afghanistan are protesting the Taliban’s misogynistic rule that threatens to ban them from holding government office and entering workplaces, and could limit girls from getting anything beyond a  sixth-grade education. They are risking their lives, knowing that such protests have already been brutally repressed. But they have not been deterred.

This Saturday, as we mourn those we’ve lost and reflect on past mistakes and missteps, let us also look forward. The war came at a great cost. But because of the sacrifices that were made, an entire generation of women was educated. Both inside and outside of Afghanistan, education will empower Afghan women (and men) to fight for a better future for themselves and their families. In the darkest hour, they hold the promise for a better future.

UPDATE: Central Asia Institute's Statement on the Attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan

Central Asia Institute is deeply shocked and saddened by the monstrous and unconscionable attack earlier today on the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. We wish to express our sincerest sympathies for the families of U.S. service members and Afghan nationals whose loved ones were killed or gravely injured in the attack.

At this dark time, our thoughts and prayers are with all Afghan people. Words cannot express our concern for their safety and welfare. Our hearts are with Afghan women and girls as they face an uncertain future. We are grateful for the brave members of the U.S. armed forces who are working to evacuate American citizens and those who are most at risk.

We reaffirm our commitment to stand with the people of Afghanistan and provide support as long as we are able to do so. At present, we are mobilizing emergency aid to meet the urgent needs of women, children, and families who have been caught up in this unfolding humanitarian crisis.

 As always, we remain extremely grateful for your ongoing compassion and support.

In solidarity,

The Central Asia Institute Team

For additional updates on the situation in Afghanistan visit our main blog page. 

[Urgent] Taliban seize control of Kabul & solidify control of the country

Along with so many people around the world, CAI’s staff and board are deeply distraught by the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan and gravely concerned for the safety of the Afghan people. The collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul over the last 24 hours have put the country’s future on a highly volatile and ominous path. There is little certainty about what will happen next – or of what life under Taliban rule will look like.

Already those who have most to fear – Afghanistan’s women and girls – are fleeing for their lives. Our hearts go out to the innocent civilians who’ve been caught up in the violence or who are at risk. We’re deeply concerned for the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve already been forced to flee their homes, 80 percent of whom are women and children.

At this dark time, Central Asia Institute remains committed to doing all we can to continue our education programs. But for now, we’re shifting our immediate focus to the urgent needs of those who are most vulnerable. At present, we’re working with our local partners to assess the most immediate needs of the displaced, especially children, many of whom lack food, water, shelter, and healthcare. Please keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for updates on how CAI is responding.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to express their concern and offered their help. Your expressions of support and solidarity mean so much to us.

Never before in CAI’s 20-year history of working in Afghanistan has more been at stake for the Afghan women, girls, and families we serve. Yet, as always, we remain resolute in our commitment to do all we can to respond to this crisis and stand with the Afghan people. Thank you for standing with us.

If you would like to support our efforts and help meet immediate needs, please consider making a gift now.

With deepest gratitude,
Alice Thomas
Executive Director, Central Asia Institute

What's next in Afghanistan? Answering Your Questions

UPDATED as of August 11, 2021

With the news of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in recent weeks, many of our friends and supporters have been contacting us to express their concern, and to ask questions about how recent events might affect CAI’s programs. While the situation is precarious and changing day-to-day, we are here to answer your questions and provide as much information as possible. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions and Central Asia Institute’s responses. If you have further questions or would like additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@centralasiainstitute.org or call Hannah Denys, CAI’s Communications Director, at 406.585.7841.

How have recent events affected Central Asia Institute’s programs in Afghanistan?

At present, Afghanistan is facing crises on two fronts: A resurgence of the deadly coronavirus and the rapid escalation of violence as the Taliban battle with government forces for control of the country.

Earlier this summer the Afghan government ordered schools to close again in an effort to fight the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant, As a result, CAI was forced to put its educational support programs on a temporary hold. Recently, the government switched course, announcing that schools would reopen despite that most Afghans have not been vaccinated or even had access to the vaccine. In response, CAI launched a program to help protect vulnerable communities and is providing PPE, raising awareness about how to avoid transmission of the disease, and dispelling misinformation about the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have continued an aggressive campaign to gain control not only of rural areas but provincial capitals as well. Tragically, civilians – including women and children – have been caught in the crossfire and more than 400,000 people have been displaced, 50% of whom are children.   

How the escalating violence and attacks on civilians will affect CAI, its partners, and the communities we have long served is not yet clear. To date, several districts where CAI supports educational programs have fallen under Taliban control. Yet the Taliban’s policy on girls’ education can vary depending on local commanders. As of writing, the Talibs in the areas where CAI has programs have not stated that girls cannot be educated.

Nonetheless, it is well known that the Taliban, at the very least, want to impose restrictions on how girls are educated, on what subjects, and to what age. For example, in June, a Taliban spokesman indicated in an interview that the Taliban want “separation between girls and boys, women and men, in universities, schools or madrassas,” and in many parts of the country that are already under Taliban control, it is reported that girls are being prohibited from going to school beyond elementary school.  

CAI will continue to work with communities to confront these challenges to female education as they arise. In fact, many of CAI’s existing programs are designed to work around existing barriers to girls’ education, for example, through establishing community-based (or home-based) schools for girls and by training women to be teachers, especially in the remote, rural areas where we work.

What will happen if the Taliban takes control of the entire country?

It is unclear what types of rules or edicts the Taliban will impose – generally or in any one district in which we work. But it is likely that women’s rights and freedoms will suffer and that girls’ access to education – especially beyond primary school – will become even more challenging.

Yet in our experience, the people of Afghanistan, especially its women, are determined not to give up without a fight the hard-fought gains over the last two decades, especially in terms of education. Today, even in rural areas, most Afghans value education. A 2019 study found that 87 percent of Afghans strongly support female education. They recognize that education is the key to a better, more prosperous future for their families, communities, and country.

For our part, CAI will do what it has always done in Afghanistan, which is to work closely with our partners and communities to adapt to the changing needs on the ground. Whether it is a drought, COVID-19, conflict and insecurity, or restrictions on girls’ access to education, we will work to provide programs that meet the needs of the communities we have long served and unlock the transformative power of education to help solve the country’s many problems. We may need to stop and start up again, but we are committed to standing by the Afghan people as long as we’re able to do so.

How can people help?

While the U.S. military may be leaving Afghanistan, it is more important than ever for the people of Afghanistan to know that the American people stand with them. What’s happening in Afghanistan might fade from the news cycle, but you can stay informed and help inform others – share news updates with your family members and friends, or post about it on social media.  If you need more information, please reach out to us here at CAI.

Second, you can reach out to your representative in Congress and express your concern about the people of Afghanistan, and your support for Afghan women and girls. Ask them what they are doing to support Afghan women and girls and to protect and promote access to education in Afghanistan.

Third, you can support organizations like Central Asia Institute that provide educational and other development and humanitarian programs in Afghanistan – and ask your friends and family to support them as well. For more information on how to give, please visit our donation webpage or contact us at info@centralasiainstitute.org or 406.585.7841.

Thank you all again for your commitment to education, and for keeping hope alive. Please keep your eyes open for additional information from us including updates from the field and how you can help. 

Hope comes to Barushan

The villagers in the mountain community of Barushan in remote Tajikistan are abuzz. Old and young alike can’t stop talking about the construction of the new Preschool #2, now underway.

Yusuf Sarkorov of Barushan

Yusuf Sarkorov

“This is the best thing that happened here in Barushan this year!” exclaims Yusuf. His son attended the former preschool which was dilapidated, drafty, and horrifically unsafe.

“To all those who helped us and made a decision on this construction, huge gratitude from the residents of Barushan!”

Yusuf’s enthusiasm is shared by other parents, children, and teachers alike.

“The whole village is very, very happy,” says Nuriya Tavakalova, the head of the school. “Every day, passing by the construction site, people observe the construction process and are very happy that the work is progressing at such a speed.”

A new school is a big deal in a remote, impoverished village, where families can feel cut off, isolated, and forgotten by the rest of the world. Education represents the chance for a better life. A new school instills a sense of pride and ownership in the community. Their enthusiasm and sense of pride are contagious – we feel it and hope you, as a supporter, can feel it too!

Lasting impact for generations to come

The old school provided places for 112 children ages 3 to 6. The new two-story building will be large enough to accommodate the children on the waiting list, bringing the total to 130 children—an increase of at least 15 percent!

We’re projecting that enrollment will continue to grow as the area grows in population. The new school will also serve the young children from a nearby village.

But of equal importance is what the new school will mean for the community over the span of several years. By giving young children the advantages of an early start on education, the preschool will contribute to the long-term well-being of the entire village.

Future generations will receive a foundation for learning. Children who attend early childhood development activities like those that will be offered at Preschool #2 are likely not only to perform better in primary school and but also complete high school. And because children are more likely to stay in school when they start at a young age, the odds of them one day earning a living wage and contributing to their country’s economy also improve.

Rustam, an education specialist and local resident, echoes the cries of joy from her community. “We residents of Barushan village express our gratitude to CAI for such a gift to our children and our future as a whole!”

Construction Update

From the onset we knew that building the school would be a multi-year undertaking. Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we were able to raise the funds for the first phase of construction. We’re pleased to report that progress is going well.

As of mid-June, the rebar is set and most of the foundation has been poured. Framing and backfilling are underway. Weather conditions have been favorable this spring, which is a huge plus in a part of the world where weather complications as well as earthquakes and landslides can halt construction for weeks. Barring any unforeseen glitches, the contractors are on track to finish the first floor before winter sets in.

Preschool #2 has major upgrades!

  • 5 classrooms and nurseries
  • Nurse’s office and music room
  • Kitchen and indoor toilets
  • Electric power
  • Central heating and water supply
  • Earthquake-resistant building materials

You’re making dreams come true

Remember Qurbonbegim? She’s the little girl we featured in our fundraising campaign. Thanks to donors like you, Qurbonbegim’s dreams of a school where the walls are not crumbling, and the rooms are not cold, are coming true.

While Qurbonbegim has finished preschool, and will be going on to primary school after summer vacation, her enthusiasm for the new Preschool #2 hasn’t waivered.

“I am happy that the construction of the new preschool began because my brother is four years old. I will take him to preschool when (the school) is ready.”

Qurbonabegim

Qurbonbegim

We couldn’t do it without you

We join Qurbonbegim and the villagers of Barushan to express our thanks for your support. It takes courage to dream big. Thanks for stepping up and dreaming with us.

To continue your investment in Preschool #2, go here if you wish to donate to the second phase of construction. Thank you!

Fighting the new, nameless war in Afghanistan

When the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August 2021, 20 years after their expulsion by U.S. troops, the American War ended. During those two decades of war, 200,000 Afghans tragically lost their lives. But now, a potentially more dangerous war is brewing. This nameless war has no clear enemy. Instead, it is a battle of survival for the Afghan people. 

Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, a third wave of COVID spread across the country like wildfire. With limited ways to protect themselves, a lack of understanding about the virus, and virtually no access to the vaccine to prevent it, countless Afghans succumbed to illness and death. When the Taliban seized power in August, the battle for survival intensified. 

Government services and international aid have all but ceased leaving Afghanistan’s economy on the verge of collapse. Only 5% of households report they have enough food to eat, and with winter  fast approaching, the outlook is grim.  Most at risk are more than 400,000 women and children who have been displaced since the beginning of 2021. Penniless, homeless, and with no way to support themselves, they are on the frontlines of this new, nameless war.

Of the approximate 550,000 Afghans displaced in 2021, about 80% are women and children.

Together, we’re helping the most vulnerable Afghans

Thanks to your generous support, to date, Central Asia Institute has helped thousands of the most vulnerable Afghans. To combat the spread of COVID, you’ve helped provide:

Girl carrying facemasks and other supllies
  • 15,186 facemasks
  • 12,240 handwashing stations
  • 1,845 hygiene kits
  • Medicines and soap for 1,170 people
  • 1,385 free medical exams

In addition, women-led families and female students in Takhar and Kapisa provinces benefited from 13,700 handwashing stations and 12,160 facemask kits. And loudspeaker messages about COVID-19 were broadcast in camps for displaced people to decrease infection rates and encourage social distancing and proper hygiene.

More help is on the way

Around 18 million Afghans, almost half the population, are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Unfortunately, the need will likely increase.

At Central Asia Institute, we’re doing everything in our power to assist communities affected by the crisis. In the coming weeks, we’re planning to distribute an additional 300 bedding kits (blankets, tarps for shelter, etc.), 300 hygiene kits (soap, menstrual hygiene products, etc.), and 300 education kits (books, pencils, etc.) to displaced families.

Nearly 18 million Afghans, almost half the population, are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Aid worker delivering supplies to refugee

Aisha, a victim of this new war

The crisis in Afghanistan cannot be explained through statistics alone. Hearing from people like Aisha, whose heartfelt letter opened the Journey of Hope magazine, is the best way to understand the situation. So we thought it was only right for her words to close the magazine as well.

Hello and salam (peace) to the world. My name is Aisha, and I’m 21 years old. I am one of the displaced people who fled from Kapisa to Kabul. By the time I am writing this, the Taliban have captured Afghanistan—my country! Now girls are being forced into marriage, female workers marched away from their jobs, and activists' homes raided in a clear message that the freedoms of the last 20 years are coming to an end. I'm worried about my future. I won't be allowed to get an education, work, go outside, or live the life I want. I feel like I am in prison without having committed a crime. For this new generation of Afghan girls, who grew up going to school and nurturing unfettered dreams, the Taliban era is ancient history, and turning back the clock is a nearly incomprehensible fate. Please, do not leave us alone. We have not forgotten the help that other countries offered us in the past, and we will not forget any help you offer us now. Please release us from this prison. Please help my people. Please help Afghanistan!

- Aisha

The situation in Afghanistan is changing rapidly. Please visit centralasiainstitute.org for the most up-to-date information about what’s happening on the ground and our efforts to support the Afghan people. 

What does girls’ education have to do with climate change?

By Alice Thomas

Across the globe, people are feeling the effects of climate change—from hurricanes to flooding to droughts to wildfires. Tragically, the poorest, most marginalized people are often the hardest hit. 

In the regions of Central Asia where CAI works, extreme weather is a part of life. But as the climate changes, poor and vulnerable communities are finding it harder to cope. Adding to the problem is that governments in this region have limited capacity to prepare for and respond
to disasters.

For example, Afghanistan is currently facing a severe drought that comes on the heels of the 2018-2019 drought. As of early September 2021, some 7 million Afghans who depend on agriculture and raising livestock to survive required humanitarian assistance.i With lower-than-usual harvests expected this fall, Afghan farmers are bracing for the worst this winter. Even before the government fell to the Taliban, former President Ashraf Ghani acknowledged that the government lacked the funds and capacity to manage the impending crisis.

While climate change is impacting all regions in the world, ecologically fragile, high-mountain areas face unique risks. Nowhere is this more evident than the remote and mountainous areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, where CAI has long focused. The Pamir, Karakoram, and Himalayan ranges are part of the broader Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, which is known as the “Roof of the World” because it has some of the tallest peaks on Earth. Many are covered with deep glaciers and serve as water towers on which billions of people living in the broader Asia region depend for fresh water and food. 

But in recent years, warmer temperatures have accelerated glacial melting, resulting in more intense flooding and, over the long term, depletion of water sources. The United Nations recently warned that even conservative scenarios for future global warming indicate that the region will lose one-third of its ice volume by the year 2100.ii

“I have noticed that the number of glaciers is decreasing, and the glaciers are melting and causing natural disasters like mudslides,” explained one senior geologist from Tajikistan who helps communities prepare for the effects of climate change. “The water level of the rivers is getting higher, washing out the roads and the crop fields.” 

Farmers in the region are noticing the changes as well. Gulru and her family have been farming their plot of land for more than 60 years. “The climate has changed a lot,” she said. “Before we had very good harvest from our little field, but this year our field was destroyed by a mudslide. Then, after we cleaned the field and planted vegetables, the harvest was not good. There wasn’t enough rain and all the crops dried up. So, this year we have to buy our vegetables from the market.”

School girls in Tashnalut Tameer

But what does the issue of climate change have to do with women, girls, and education?

In the HKH region and other poor and ecologically fragile parts of the globe, women and girls bear the brunt of extreme weather and climate change. Poverty and other economic, social, and cultural factors act to heighten their vulnerability to climate change impacts.   At the same time, they have far less access than men to the resources, knowledge, and decision-making that would help them to recover and adapt.

For example, when disasters like flash flooding or typhoons occur, women and girls are far more likely to be killed or displaced. Females living in displacement camps also face a heightened risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. 

In the case of long-term disasters like droughts, socio-cultural norms and childcare responsibilities can prevent women from migrating to urban areas to seek
assistance or find jobs. When food is scarce, mothers often forgo meals so that the males and small children can eat. They must also travel greater distances to get water, increasing the risk of
gender-based violence. 

Climate-related disasters have also been shown to contribute to a rise in early childhood marriages by exacerbating poverty and incentivizing families to marry off young daughters. Girls are also more likely than boys to drop out of school when their families are facing environmental crises. 

The same social, economic, and cultural factors that make women and girls more vulnerable to extreme weather often prevent them from participating in solutions.iii Because women in the remote communities CAI serves are often illiterate and lack resources, they are less equipped to adapt to climate change. And because they aren’t included in decision-making and planning processes, they are unable to participate in devising climate solutions. 

The good news is that research shows that educating women and girls may be one of the best ways to overcome these problems. Education not only opens the door to more opportunities, it also allows women to be better stewards of the environment while building their resilience to extreme weather and the impacts of climate change.

Education provides a pathway for putting women and girls at the forefront of climate change solutions.

In addition, education plays an important role in promoting female reproductive health and rights. Studies show that women who are educated have healthier births and greater control over their bodies. They can better decide when to have children and how many to have. According to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization that works on climate solutions and research, “Estimates suggest that together with family planning, girls’ education has the potential of avoiding nearly 85 gigatons of carbon emissions by 2050.”iv  That’s a big reduction considering that in 2020, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels were 9.3 gigatons.v In fact, Project Drawdown includes girls’ education as one of the top 10 strategies for combating global warming.

Another factor supporting girls’ education as an effective strategy for addressing climate change is that women have been shown to make excellent environmental leaders. Studies have linked female leadership, which obviously requires education, to better environmental policies and decreased climate pollution. 

When looking to the future, it’s also critical to ensure that girls and women get the education, training, and skills they need to prepare themselves for green jobs in the new green economy. This will require not only enabling girls to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, but also developing their empowerment skills and helping them actively participate in decisions affecting the societies in which they live.vi

In short, without the participation of women and girls, we have little hope of minimizing the worst effects of climate change.

In the countries where CAI works, access to quality education is limited, especially for girls. Afghanistan and Pakistan have some of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world, and the majority of them are girls. In Tajikistan, girls tend to drop out before reaching high school at a higher rate than boys, and fewer girls complete their secondary education and attend university. 

With the support of our dedicated donors, CAI is working to increase girls’ and women’s access to quality education. But making educational opportunities available to girls and women serves a much broader purpose. For girls and women, education is key to unlocking their full potential. It empowers them to thrive. And when girls and women thrive, so do their families, communities, and countries. 

We know that tackling climate change can seem like a huge, unsolvable challenge. Yet we know that advancing girls’ education is a proven strategy for helping to solve many of the world’s other, seemingly unsolvable problems – such as poverty, poor health, and insecurity. The same holds true for humankind’s greatest challenge – climate change. We know, as you do, that when you educate a girl, you truly are changing the world!

i. McCarthy, J. (2020, March 5). Change Impacts Women More Than Men. In Global Citizen. 

United Nations. (2021, August 16). Five ways climate change hurts women and girls. In United Nations Population Fund.

ii. Policy Brief: Melting Glaciers, Threatened Livelihoods: Confronting Climate Change to Save the Third Pole (2021, June). In UNDP.

iii. Osman-Elasha, B. (2013). Women…In The Shadow of Climate Change. In UN Chronicle.

iv. Hawken, P. (2017). Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. 

v. Mkitarian, J. (2020, December). 2020 Global Carbon Budget. In Global Ocean Monitoring and Observation. https://globalocean.noaa.gov/News/2020-global-carbon-budget-released-1

vi. Kwauk, C. (2021, February). Why is girls’ education important for climate action? In Brookings.

We're all connected

By Rebecca Lee

Ask Ruth Abad for the key to the world’s problems, and she answers with one word: education. Ask her to be more specific, and she gives you this: education for girls and
young women.

“Educated girls marry later,” she says. “They have fewer children. Research shows that educating girls has a positive effect on their health outcomes, on their economic opportunities—I could go on and on.”

Ruth learned early in life that when a family has limited resources, the boys get priority. She sees that dynamic at play in Central Asia.

“I’m 76 years old,” she says. “I graduated from high school in 1962. My parents planned to pay for college for me and my brothers, but the message was, if the money runs out, the boys will go because they will have to support a family.”

Thankfully, the college money lasted, and Ruth earned a teaching degree.

“I went into elementary education when women had three choices for a major: nursing, teaching, or social work.”

While she was teaching, Ruth volunteered in support of women’s rights and eventually decided to pursue a career in public health.

“I naively applied to several schools,” she recounts. “One was the University of Hawaii. As luck would have it, that year the federal government offered fellowships to students in public health as part of an initiative to improve the public health infrastructure in the U.S. In 1975, the government paid my tuition at the University of Hawaii and gave me a small stipend to live on.” 

“Imagine,” she says with disbelief, “a girl from New England goes to graduate school in Hawaii! I’ve always been appreciative and grateful for that experience.”

Gratitude comes up often in conversation with Ruth. “More and more,” she says, “I realize how privileged I am. I’m not wealthy. We’re a middle-class family, but I had the chance to get an education. I’ve had good health care. It breaks my heart that others don’t have these same advantages. It’s wonderful that organizations like Central Asia Institute come in and help communities educate girls.”

Ruth’s interest in Central Asia Institute began with Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea. “That book opened my eyes,” she says. “I found
it amazing.” 

The book piqued her interest in that part of the world. Some years later, she heard Mortenson speak at the local high school. He echoed her belief in the power of education, especially for girls and women. She left the event knowing she wanted to support organizations that support women and children. 

“It’s just not fair,” she says. “Some people, because of where they’re born and who their parents are, have more benefits and privileges than a person living someplace else. It’s just not right.” 

“I live in my own little community,” she explains. “I have contact with my grandchildren, and with friends who have similar values and do the same kinds of activities.” But by supporting CAI, Ruth feels more connected to the world.

“I’m learning that we’re all connected. If part of humankind is suffering, it affects all of us. We can’t live in a bubble.”

Inspired to give

When her granddaughter was born, Ruth decided to put money away every year for her education. Through small gifts at Christmas and birthdays, and contributions to her granddaughter’s education fund, little by little she is ensuring that her granddaughter has the resources to pursue an education no matter what.

Now that her granddaughter is a little older, Ruth has begun talking with her about the plight of children in other parts of the world. Although her granddaughter is only 7, Ruth wants her to be aware that not every girl is as lucky as she is to be born in the United States, go to a good school, have plenty to eat, and see a doctor when she’s sick.

“I show my granddaughter the Journey of Hope magazine. We look at the photos together. We look at the girls in their schools and talk about their situation. The magazine provides an educational opportunity for me to talk with her about what it’s like to grow up in a poor village. I hope I’m slowly helping her understand that not everybody has all the privileges that she has.”

“This little girl has everything she needs,” Ruth explains. “Other girls don’t have that same opportunity. Their families don’t have the resources. Giving to CAI is my small way of equalizing that.”

 “‘I give you money,’ I tell her, and I also give to girls on the other side of the world. I’m not heavy handed about it, but little by little, we talk about these things.”

Ruth’s message to other CAI supporters and folks hearing about CAI for the first time is this: “I would tell them that CAI is a well-run organization. They make you feel like you’re making a difference. The money goes where there’s a need. If we want to make
a difference in the world, we need
to provide education to girls and young women.”

Ruth encourages grandparents like herself or aunts and uncles who are helping family members with an education fund to think of other girls and children who don’t have the same privileges.

We hope that you’ll join Ruth and reach out across the globe to give the gift of education to impoverished girls and women in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan

Learn how to support girls’ education in smart, tax-savvy ways

By Sonja Bahr

Central Asia Institute depends on the commitment and generosity of supporters like you to unlock the potential of girls and women through education. Many of our supporters want to ensure future generations of children in Central Asia receive the gift of education but aren’t sure how to go about it.

Here are just a few of the ways your commitment today can provide hope and opportunity for current and future generations, while also providing benefits such as tax deductions and regular income for life for you and your family.

Appreciated stock

Donating appreciated stock is an excellent option for donors who would like CAI to benefit from gains made in the stock market while reducing their tax liability. A donation of stock is an easy transaction, and donating appreciated stock held at least one year typically avoids capital gains tax for the donor. 

Here’s a scenario that demonstrates this: Nora purchased 1,000 shares of ABC 10 years ago at $5 per share. ABC stock is now valued at $50 per share, making Nora’s holdings valued at $50,000. If Nora donates the stock directly to CAI, three things happen: she can deduct her gift from her taxes; she can avoid paying capital gains tax on the $45,000 earnings on the stock; and she is able to increase the size of her gift to CAI while lowering her overall tax bill.

Scenario for benefits of stock sales

Qualified charitable distribution

Donating to CAI using a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is another tax-savvy way to support CAI. If you are 70½ years of age or older, you can make a tax-free transfer directly to CAI from your retirement account (such as an IRA or 401(k)) that will count toward your required minimum distribution (RMD).

For example, Omar’s annual RMD is $15,000. If Omar makes his donation to CAI using a QCD, his taxable RMD income is reduced or eliminated.

Stock donation benefits scenario

Charitable gift annuity

Establishing a charitable gift annuity will enable you to support CAI and feel confident that you have dependable income in your retirement years. This type of donation can provide you with regular payments for life, a portion of which may be tax-free.

Stock appreciation chart

Charitable bequest

A charitable bequest is a meaningful way to plan a gift that shapes your legacy and allows you to maintain control of your assets while reducing estate taxes. The lives of thousands of people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan have been changed by individuals who thoughtfully included CAI in their estate plans. A few of the ways you can leave a bequest to Central Asia Institute include naming CAI in your will or trust, or designating CAI as a full, partial, or contingent beneficiary of your retirement account, pension, or life insurance policy. 

If you have already made arrangements to give a gift to Central Asia Institute by placing us in your will or trust, or through a beneficiary designation, please take a moment to let us know. By sharing your intention with us, you can work with our team to ensure your gift will be used to meet your philanthropic goals and directed to those programs that are most important to you. We would also welcome the opportunity to express to you our gratitude and provide regular and timely updates on the lives you are touching in Central Asia. 

Please contact us for more information about how to support our mission in tax-wise ways. We would be honored to help! 

Sonja Bahr, Senior Development Officer
sbahr@centralasiainstitute.org
406.585.7841

*All of the examples above are hypothetical and for explanatory purposes only. These illustrations are not professional tax or legal advice. Please always consult a tax advisor about your specific situation to find the best solution to meet your needs.

Differently abled craftswoman turns her passion into a profession

By Hannah Denys

Now Gulnamo is 42, and she creates elaborate, richly colored handicrafts—from traditional Pamiri socks to ornately beaded jewelry to whimsical souvenirs. Making these beautiful treasures has become her passion. She’ll find any excuse—a friend’s wedding, a family member’s birthday, or just a quiet moment—to sit and practice her art. And by doing so, Gulnamo is keeping a longstanding family tradition alive. 

Women in Gulnamo’s family have been knitting and crafting for many decades, passing down the traditional knowledge and skills from mother to daughter for generations. Gulnamo’s mother, Gulkhotun, knit professionally when she was younger, working at a weaving factory in eastern Tajikistan. There she made just 50 somonis (about $5) a month. She loved the work, but said the salary “was nothing to survive on.” She wanted more for her daughter, so she encouraged her to get a college degree and pursue a career outside of crafting. 

Even though Gulnamo wanted to pursue her passion for crafting, she applied to university and was accepted. With the money she earned from selling her handmade products she was able to pay her university fees. Yet, even after graduating from university, she continued spinning wool, knitting socks, and making souvenirs, often giving them to friends as gifts. Crafting would have to remain a hobby for Gulnamo, who’d given up hope that she could turn her passion into a sustainable career.  

Then Gulkhotun heard about a business training workshop for women. Here was an opportunity for her daughter to both pursue her passion and make a good living.

Women like Gulnamo who live in small, mountain villages in Tajikistan almost never have an opportunity to take part in courses about starting and running a small business, despite their need for such knowledge and skills. Because of the limited jobs available in Tajikistan, people are often forced to leave the country to find work. Most go to China or Russia and send money home to their families. Reports estimate that 30% of the population of eastern Tajikistan, where Gulnamo lives, works abroad. Unfortunately, sometimes men working abroad decide to build a new life for themselves in their adoptive country, and the money they had been sending home to their families dries up. Women and children are left to fend for themselves. 

For these single-parent households, it’s crucial for women to earn an income. Even for Tajik couples who stay together, a second income can help lift a family out of poverty, which is sorely needed in a country where one-third of the population lives in poverty. 

During the 10-day workshop, Gulnamo and the other 118 female participants learned how to create business plans and budgets, analyze and respond to market demands, and perform basic accounting functions. They were connected to local women’s business associations, introduced to potential mentors, and shown how to apply for financing.     

“This training totally changed my life,” Gulnamo says. “In the training, I learned about how to make and save money.” 

“I learned how to plan my family budget, daily calculation of money and income, managing money, and saving money. The training changed my life. Within a month, I managed to hire two more ladies who work with me and are able to improve their life. Besides that, I am teaching sewing skills and sharing knowledge with the ladies to make them successful like me as a businesswoman in the village. My plan is to open my own sewing workshop and involve more housewives.”

– Fakhriya Dovutova, business program graduate

But it’s not just program participants who are benefiting from the training. Program graduates are determined to help other women and families benefit from what they’ve learned. Several of them have formed a network for female entrepreneurs that will allow members to share knowledge and pool resources. They’re even raising funds for a micro-finance program, which will help other prospective entrepreneurs pay for trainings and start companies.  

Gulnamo is also planning to use what she’s learned to help other craftswomen in her community. “After saving money, I’ll start constructing a souvenir shop in my village to sell handmade crafts together with other girls,” she explains. “I’ll teach my skills of knitting, making rabbits, and other things to young girls in my village—my neighbors and nieces. Some of the young girls are already skillful in making Pamiri skull caps, socks, national dresses, and more. I want to sell all the products in the shop. A lot of tourists come through our village. They walk on the road and buy different things. This is my wish and hope for the future.” 

Gulnamo receiving her certificate

In two years, Central Asia Institute Tajikistan has trained 170 would-be female entrepreneurs. Many of them have gone on to start successful businesses. But there are many more women waiting in the wings, eager to participate in the program. They already have the vision and the passion. They just need a little bit of help to
get started. 

To meet this need, Central Asia Institute Tajikistan staff hope to offer the business training course annually. In addition, they have plans to expand the program to provide financial support and ongoing mentorship to workshop graduates. 

Using what they’ve learned from this workshop, women are taking their financial futures into their own hands and working to pull their families out of poverty. At the same time, they’re preserving age-old artforms and building a strong community of female business owners in one of the most remote regions of the world. As the program continues to grow and expand to reach more women, the possibilities are endless. Women can do amazing things when they turn their passions into professions.

Special thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan for funding the 2020 pilot program.

“[Following the training], I decided to take a risk and bravely started to bake kulcha (little round loaves of bread) and took them to a small shop for selling. With the money I bought flour again, and this way increased my income. I started to save money for my children’s needs, as we learned in the training. I have a garden and orchard, but before I felt ashamed and afraid to sell the products. But the training changed my mind. I feel a great improvement in my life. I am sharing the training information with my children, who help me in making kulcha. I am planning to get a better oven to make quality kulcha, as there is big demand. Neighbors and friends order kulcha for weddings and other events.”

– Zarniso Alidodova, business program graduate

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