Afghanistan Update: Making Education Possible – One Girl at a Time

The news stories from Afghanistan continue to be grim. Growing poverty and hunger. Increasing  repression of women and girls. A devastating earthquake.

What you may not be reading in the news, however, are the important gains that are being made; gains that wouldn’t be possible without the enormous courage of ordinary Afghans, the tireless work of CAI’s partners on the ground, and the dedicated support of CAI’s donors. 

It’s true that, despite international pressure, the Taliban regime continues its war on women and girls. Since banning high school girls from returning to school last fall, the Taliban’s leadership has mandated women to wear head-to-toe burqas, prohibited them from going outside or traveling abroad without a male relative to accompany them, and further restricted their right to work. Draconian edicts like these are designed not just to wrest the most basic of human rights from female Afghans, but to erase them from Afghan society altogether.

But a lot has changed in the 20 years since the Taliban was last in power. Today, there is greater recognition among ordinary Afghans, including those living in rural areas, of the enormous value of education. Mothers, fathers, local community leaders, and religious scholars – not to mention youth and children themselves – are standing up for education, especially for girls. And thanks to your support, CAI is standing with them, and helping to meet that demand for education and for a better future.

Children in Afghan Home School

Take Lobna. Lobna lives in a remote village in eastern Afghanistan along the border of Pakistan. By the time she turned 10, Lobna had never attended school because the only school in her district was too far away. When the Taliban took over her country last August, she began to lose hope altogether of getting an education and fulfilling her dream of one day becoming a doctor.

But that changed last March when CAI’s partner organization came to her village to establish a community-based school. By bringing teachers and classrooms to areas where no schools exist, community-based schools fill the gap and overcome the obstacles that girls like Lobna face in accessing education. The community provides a safe, private place for the classes to be held and CAI recruits and trains teachers and provides books, lesson materials, and school supplies.

I am very happy because this is my first time going to school. Before this CBE class, school-age girls in my village couldn’t attend school because it’s too far away from my village. Now, every morning, I get up filled with happiness and am overjoyed as I walk 20 minutes with the other girls to get to the class. – Lobna

Lobna

Over the past four months, with CAI support, more than 180 community-based classrooms have been established across remote and impoverished parts of northern and eastern Afghanistan. More than 5,700 children – the majority girls – are now enrolled in these schools. And next year, CAI hopes to increase that number.

From time to time, local Taliban members have tried to interfere. However, because the community-based schools are established with the strong support of parents and village councils, the whole community becomes an advocate for education. When issues have arisen, it has been the local community that has negotiated with the Taliban and we’re happy to report that so far, these issues have been resolved successfully and peacefully.

CAI is also supporting Afghan women and girls in other ways. We’re recruiting young women to be teachers and piloting at-home learning for high school girls in parts of the country where the Taliban has forced them to drop out of school. The Taliban may continue to throw up roadblocks but as long as there is a demand from Afghans for education, CAI will work to do all we can to make education available.

Afghan girls and women standing in line

With all the crises at home and abroad, it can be hard to keep focused on the plight of Afghan women and girls. But now is not the time to close our ears, to turn away from our Afghan sisters, or to give up hope for a more peaceful, equitable Afghanistan. Rather, this is the time for us to stand in solidarity with Afghan women and girls as they face dark forces who seek to take away their choices in life and the possibility of a better future. They are holding out hope because CAI supporters like you are making education possible, despite the challenges.

At CAI, never before have we been more inspired by the people we serve; by children like Lobna who despite the Taliban, is imagining a better future for herself and her country because she now has access to education. We hope you’ll be inspired too.

Attending school is very important for all Afghans because we learn everything in school which enables us to serve our country and people in the future. Like boys, it is also important for girls to attend school because they become teachers, doctors, and engineers like boys do. I would like all families to let their girls to attend school. All girls should have the opportunity to learn to read and write and become who they want to be. – Lobna

Lobna

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. 

Giving to CAI through your IRA is as easy as 123

By Sonja Bahr

Trying to understand philanthropic giving, retirement fund requirements, and tax deductions can feel overwhelming. But making a donation to Central Asia Institute through your individual retirement account (IRA) is easy, can save you money on taxes, and, most importantly, will help provide education for girls and women living in the regions we serve.

Why consider making a donation through your IRA?

  • If you are 70½ years of age or older, you can make a tax-free transfer directly to CAI from your IRA. Starting in the year you turn 72, you can use this gift to fulfill all or part of your required minimum distributions (RMDs).
  • When the transfer is made directly from your IRA to CAI, you are not required to pay income taxes on the funds, even if you do not itemize your deductions.
Graphic

Frequently Used Terms Cheat Sheet

 Individual retirement account (IRA)
An account set up at a financial institution that allows individuals to save for retirement with tax-free growth or on a tax-deferred basis.

Qualified charitable distribution (QCD)
An otherwise taxable distribution from an IRA owned by an individual who is age 70½ or older that is paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity.

Required minimum distribution (RMD)
The smallest amount you are required to withdraw from your tax-deferred retirement accounts every year after a certain age.

Claire - CAI donor

“Contributing to CAI from my IRA account was easy. It is a total win/win way to donate. The withdrawal of funds satisfies all or part of my required minimum distribution, and it is not reported as taxable income for me. I love it when things are easy, I accomplish something worthwhile, and it’s nontaxable. What could be better than that?”
– Claire, CAI donor for nine years

Barbara - CAI donor

Growing up, Barbara’s parents encouraged her to be frugal with her money. But when her mom stepped in to support an impoverished family in Colombia who she had never met, Barbara learned another important lesson. Each week, her mother sent money for the family to buy food, and Barbara went from feeling overwhelmed by heartbreaking poverty to witnessing how one person—her mother—was making a profound difference in the lives of others. Barbara carried that lesson with her all her life, and after learning about CAI’s mission, felt as though she had found a way to give back as an adult.


“CAI’s efforts make a difference in the lives of people who I will never meet. … I feel grateful to know my economic privilege can be such a powerful tool for good. My parents taught me to be careful with my money, and I have a secure retirement. So when I needed to start taking the required minimum distribution from my IRA, I was dismayed to learn that it would likely push us into a different tax bracket. Fortunately, if I give that money away directly through my IRA, I don’t have any negative tax consequences. At tax time, I report the RMD and that it was a qualified charitable distribution. Go ahead. Use your retirement account to make the world a better place. Your mom will be proud.”
-Barbara, CAI donor for 11 years

Frequently asked questions

 Q: Can I just take the funds from the IRA myself and then donate that amount to CAI?
A: How you process a QCD is very important if you want to benefit from the tax savings. If you withdraw money from your IRA yourself, or receive your RMD directly and then make a donation to CAI, the QCD will be disallowed. Funds must go directly from your IRA to the charity of your choice to qualify as a QCD.

Q: How much can I give each year from my IRA?
A: Individuals 70½ years of age or older can make QCDs up to the annual limit of $100,000. This limit applies to the total distributions within a calendar year, regardless of whether the distributions are made at the same time or to one or multiple nonprofit organizations.

Q: My spouse and I would like to give more than $100,000. Can we do that?
A: If you have a spouse (as defined by the IRS) who is 70½ or older, they can also give any amount up to $100,000 from their IRA.

Q: I have more questions or would just like to talk this through. Who should I contact?
A: We are honored to help you reach your philanthropic goals and are here to answer your questions!

For more information, please contact Sonja Bahr, senior development officer, at 406.585.7841 or sbahr@centralasiainstitute.org.

Connecting a passion for beauty to CAI’s mission

By Alice Thomas

Fara Homidi, a renowned makeup artist and budding entrepreneur, demonstrates through her giving that beauty is more than skin deep.

Fara Homidi is a successful makeup artist whose high-profile clients include Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell, and Billie Eilish. She’s also on the verge of launching her own line of cosmetics. But while Fara has enjoyed so much opportunity and freedom in the United States, she’s never forgotten about the people who are still struggling in her country of birth—Afghanistan.

In the years following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Fara’s father—a chemist, professor of agriculture, and businessman—became a target. “It came to a point that it was very dangerous for people of any influence,” she explained.

Fara’s parents panicked when they heard about Soviet soldiers knocking on doors of prominent families and killing businessmen.

They knew they needed to escape to save their lives. In the middle of night, they fled with their three small children across the border to Pakistan, leaving everything they owned behind.

Fara’s parents dreamed of coming to the United States to raise their children, but they had no means to get there. Then her father had the idea of contacting a visiting professor he had studied with at Kabul University back in 1966 named Dr. Jerry Nielson. Dr. Nielson, along with his wife LaVonne and their local church in Bozeman, Montana, had helped Fara’s father pay for his eye surgery. Not knowing the Nielson’s address, he simply put “Dr. Jerry Nielsen, Bozeman, MT” on the envelope. Remarkably, because Bozeman was such a small town back then, the letter reached its addressee.

Jerry and LaVonne didn’t hesitate in agreeing to help the Homidis come to America. “The Nielsens welcomed our entire family with so much love and generosity,” Fara recalled, fighting back tears of emotion. “That started our journey in the U.S.”

With the support of the Nielsens and their local church, the Homidis settled into their new life in America. Eventually, the family moved from Bozeman to Fremont, California, where there was a small community of Afghans. Fara’s father went back to school, and her mother went to cosmetology school, eventually opening her own salon.

green globe

I believe a single human can make a huge difference. I believe in the magical powers of women and think they will persevere.

After her beauty career takes off, Fara decides to give back

Fara grew up in her mother’s salon in California, working there every weekend and reading fashion magazines like Vogue. “That’s when my love for beauty began,” she said. “I knew I wanted to get into that business.” After working at a make-up counter in her local mall as a teenager, Fara moved to Los Angeles to work for a cosmetics company. She later went to New York City to pursue her career as a makeup artist.

After years of hard work, Fara began to catch the attention of fashion magazines and fashion designers who wanted to use her for their shows. Her client list gradually came to include supermodels and some of the hottest names in Hollywood.

Fara is now busy planning the launch of her own brand of cosmetics, finding inspiration from old photographs of her parents in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban. “Kabul was so forward, such a modern city, so rich in art and beauty, and women had so much liberty,” she explained. “My mother always had an eye for design and beautiful things. … Now I see how stifling it is for women—also men—but more so for women.”

Fara is aware of how the generosity of others freed her from that stifling life, and that led her to become a CAI donor. “Had we not left Afghanistan, had we not known the Nielsens, what opportunities would I have had compared to what they are now?” she asked. “If I can give back in a small way, that would be something.

“Being here, being able to get educated, start my business, I know that would have been an uphill battle in Afghanistan,” she continued. “I think with CAI, the girls who are dying to have this education, who want to learn, want to become businesswomen—through CAI, some of that could be possible.”

Combining girls’ education and the future of the planet

Fara’s desire to help Afghan women and girls has continued to grow. She recently decided to commit to donating a percentage of the proceeds of her new makeup business to CAI. “I’m putting everything into this brand,” she said. “I have faith it will do well. Having that faith, I know that the better I do, the more I can give. If I was going deep down into my own pocket, I couldn’t give nearly as much.”

Fara is making her donations to CAI through 1% for the Planet, an organization that advises environmentally conscious businesses on how to make the biggest impact with their financial contributions and links them to nonprofits whose work advances environmental stewardship and combats climate change.

In 2022, CAI was approved to participate in the 1% for the Planet network. While CAI is not a typical environmental nonprofit organization, there is substantial evidence of the enormous role educated women play in a healthier planet. For example, women make up more than 50% of the world’s farmers, and when these women farmers are educated, they are able to use improved agricultural practices. Educated women also tend to spread out their pregnancies and have fewer children, which helps keep the developing world’s exploding population growth in check. Women have an incredibly important role to play in our planet’s future, but they can’t make these contributions unless they are educated.

With all that has happened in Afghanistan over the past year since the Taliban regained control, Fara often worries about the country’s future. But she also has reason for hope, which motivates her to continue to contribute. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” she said. “I believe a single human can make a huge difference. I believe in the magical powers of women and think they will persevere.”

(For more information on how to contribute proceeds from your business to CAI via the 1% for the Planet network, see www.onepercentfortheplanet.org.)

In a mountain village in Tajikistan, a new preschool brings hope and promise

By Sonja Bahr

In the pocket-sized mountain town of Barushan—like everywhere in the world—young children love to play, explore, and let their imaginations soar. It’s all part of the process of brain development that, under the right circumstances, can benefit a child throughout their life. But to fully capture the enormous advantages that early childhood education provides, the children of Barushan must have a school.

Girl on playground slide

Preschool #2, the only preschool in the village, was built in 1962 with inadequate materials and over the years, fell into disrepair. The walls and ceilings were sagging, mold was growing in the corners, coal-burning stoves used to heat the rooms belched smoke, and small children were forced to use the dilapidated wooden outhouses with no running water. Despite the awful conditions at the school, there was a waitlist to get in. When CAI staff visited Preschool #2 in 2019, it was clear that the building was unsafe and unhealthy, and that the community was in dire need of a new school. 

Building construction

Spring / Summer 2021:
Crews begin construction

Fall 2021:
Construction halts for winter

That’s when CAI’s generous donors stepped in. Thanks to their generosity, construction crews broke ground on a new preschool in the spring of 2021. Once completed, the two-story building will accommodate even more young preschoolers aged 3 to 5—125 children total—from the surrounding area. In addition to five classrooms, a kitchen, a nurse’s office, and art and music rooms, the new school will have central heating, indoor latrines, piped water supply, and electric power. The end result? A safe, healthy, child-friendly school where these young children can thrive and parents will feel it is safe to leave their little ones.

Following a pause in construction during Tajikistan’s brutal winter months, crews resumed their work in spring of 2022 with the goal of completing the second floor before winter sets in. The final touches, including playground equipment, furniture, and more, will be added next summer. The doors will be opened for a new class of preschoolers in fall 2023.

Construction in Tajikistan

Spring 2022:
Construction on the second
floor begins

School building under construction in Tajikistan

Summer 2022:
Construction on the second
floor continues

There is still time for you to get involved in this exciting project! Your support today will ensure a brighter future for generations of children to come.

And for those wishing to make a more significant investment in the school, please consider joining the bricklayer’s society by making a gift of $1,000 or the builder’s society by making a gift of $5,000. There is even an opportunity to sponsor a whole classroom. To all of you who already supported Preschool #2, thank you for bringing hope and promise to the families of Barushan!

Donate to CAI

Using education to change a life, a community, and an entire nation

By Rebecca Lee

Zia

CAI Program Officer Zia Sanaban’s journey from a poor, remote village in Afghanistan to a prosperous life in Maryland is a story of hardship and struggle, perseverance and courage.

Zia Sanaban grew up with three brothers in a poor rural village in Afghanistan. His family and neighbors never had enough money and were constantly struggling to make ends meet. They had no electricity and no access to essential services. Jobs were scarce. Government aid and support systems to help impoverished families like his did not exist.

Children were born poor and stayed poor, unless they had the opportunity to go to school. “As a boy growing up, I believed education would help me overcome some of the challenges my family was facing,” said Zia. “Education would mean I could also help my community. Even when I was young, I knew I wanted to give something back to my community. I knew I wanted to help people.”

Zia dreamt of becoming a scientist or engineer so he could help tackle some of the most pressing challenges of his community. “We had no electricity. There were transportation problems and health issues. We had to walk long distances to school. There was no access to the internet or other resources,” he explained. “For me, education was something that could help me overcome some of these issues personally, for my family, and, on a broader scale, for my community.”

woman on donkey in Afghanistan

Learning the value of education from his parents

Zia’s mother was a strong woman who refused to accept the traditional way of life for herself and her children. She knew education was essential if her boys were to escape a life of poverty. She revered her brother and uncle—both teachers—and told her boys that these men inspired her. Her esteem and respect for teachers made an impression on Zia, one he never forgot.

Both of his parents were hard workers, but it was difficult for them to make enough money to afford school. They had to make many sacrifices to cover the fees, supplies, and uniforms their four boys required to attend classes. “My parents were kind enough to tackle all the socioeconomic challenges to help us go to school. It took their blood, sweat, and tears to make sure we were getting an education.”

To earn income, they farmed for other people and used the money to cover school expenses. Zia and his brothers rewarded their parents’ hard work by excelling at school. They also helped other students with their homework.

“Getting an education is the first step for families to be able to tackle the challenges and contribute to the development of their community,” explained Zia. “Becoming a doctor means your community will have a doctor and lower mortality rates.

Becoming a teacher means one day you can help the children of your community become educated. By getting an education, you will change the lives of your family and your village.”

The challenges that Zia’s parents faced are not unique in the rural villages of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Poor families across Central Asia encounter the same hurdles: weak or nonexistent infrastructure, scarcity of jobs, no health care, and few educational opportunities. Uneducated and without resources, the children of these villages are trapped, unless they go to school. Education is their one hope for a more meaningful, independent life.

Girl reading in class

Using education to become a change agent

With uncles who were teachers and a mother who put teachers on a pedestal, perhaps it was inevitable that Zia would become a teacher. He was a good student, excelling in math and the sciences, and his teachers liked him. When he was in high school, they recruited him to help teach middle school.

“This was a dream job for me—to teach and help people,” said Zia. “I learned how to deal with students, how to cover difficult topics. I was a part-time teacher. In the morning, I went to school. In the afternoon, I went to the girls’ school to teach. I learned a lot during that time. I learned how an individual can contribute by helping their peers and the children of their community.”

Zia went on to graduate from college in Kabul. He earned a master’s degree as a Fulbright scholar at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, then returned to Afghanistan and worked for nine years in program management and career development. Back in Afghanistan, Zia was an active participant in his country’s Fulbright community.

“We were trying to make an impact,” he recalled. “We thought of ourselves as change agents to help Afghan society become a better society. We wanted to overcome socioeconomic challenges, let daughters go to school, and allow women to work.”

Even under Taliban control, Afghans demand access to school

When the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, it imposed severe restrictions on all aspects of society, particularly on women and girls. This included limiting girls’ access to school. Despite these obstacles, CAI was able to give more than 5,700 children, mostly girls, the opportunity to go to a community-based school this past year. With the support of its donors, CAI hopes to increase that number to at least 7,500 this coming school year.

Courageous people in remote Afghan villages are ignoring the Taliban’s decrees against education and demanding their children be educated. Mothers and fathers are standing up for their daughters, insisting they go to school. They’re working to find safe spaces to house community-based schools and serving on the local councils that monitor the schools. Villagers are working with NGOs to convince government authorities that their village needs a school. Like Zia’s parents, these Afghans are passionate about their children becoming literate and having the chance to build a better life.

Unfortunately, many of the people who could have helped fight for this cause were forced to leave the country when the Taliban seized control. Thousands of educated, forward-thinking Afghans—journalists, government workers, academics, and political activists—knew they would be targeted and face persecution by the new government, so chose to flee if they could. Zia was one of those people. He and his family made it out of Kabul on August 28, 2021.

A student at the CBE school in Parwan Province

A new life in America, but never forgetting the people of Afghanistan

Zia’s wife was pregnant when they left Afghanistan, so their fourth daughter was born in the United States. Zia is grateful that his family is in a safe place. His daughters love school. His wife is learning English. And Zia, as program officer at CAI, is working tirelessly on behalf of the children, especially the girls, still in Afghanistan. He understands the desperation of poverty. He witnessed the sacrifices his parents made to send him to school. And he’s living proof of what can happen to a child who’s given the opportunity for an education.

In his position at CAI, Zia helps make education possible in impoverished communities that are largely overlooked by the rest of the world. “In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, there are a lot of out-of-school children,” he said. “The quality of education is below standard. Access to education, job opportunities, and the outlook for careers for girls and women are all challenges. My work now directly contributes to those people by helping them get an education, pursue their dreams, and have a decent life.”

Zia is thrilled that his daughters are adapting to life in America and reaping the benefits of living in a free, open society. He recalled that in Afghanistan, it was difficult for them to even go outside. “We had a boundary wall around our house. The kids could only play inside the wall,” he said. “There were kidnappings and killings, extortion, and other things. We couldn’t let them go outside. We were contained. Here we are going to parks and we let them play. They see the freedoms and feel more secure. They’ve been able to see the world more here than in Afghanistan.”

Zia wants his daughters to become role models for the children left behind in Afghanistan. “I’m hoping my daughters find a way to be change agents and bridge these two societies,” he said. “I’m hoping they go to Afghanistan and represent the opportunities and freedoms in the U.S. When they are here in the U.S., I’m hoping they represent the Afghan people and their struggle, and that someday they facilitate a mutual understanding.”

Education gives Zia hope, and now he’s working to make hope come alive for another generation of marginalized Afghan children. “Continuing to support and promote education programs in Afghanistan is critical,” he said. “The Afghan people will remember this support. The people will feel they are not forgotten. Yes, there are issues and restrictions, but your support makes a difference.”

Become a CAI supporter and make a difference.

A gift of $100 sends an Afghan child to school for an ENTIRE YEAR!

The myths around menstruation helps girls get an education

By Molly Shapiro

In the remote mountain villages of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan, young girls confront many challenges in their pursuit of an education—from poverty to lack of transportation to conservative cultural norms that confine girls and women to the domestic sphere. One barrier to education that is rarely discussed—yet highly disruptive to girls’ daily lives—is menstruation.

While menstrual bleeding is a fact of life for women and girls, a simple bodily function that requires proper hygiene and care, in these conservative communities, the topic of menstruation is taboo. There are many harmful myths associated with it that hamper girls’ ability to go to school, work, and participate in normal activities inside and outside of the home.

Girls and women do not talk about menstruation, and that leads to shame, misconceptions, and poor hygiene. Families restrict girls who have their period from going to school and doing chores around the house because they see them as unclean and impure. Girls are isolated and made to feel fearful about interacting with others during menses. Even when girls are allowed to go to school, their discomfort and worry about staining their clothes and their lack of access to proper sanitation facilities often make them choose not to attend at all.

Women learning in Pakistan

Opening the lines of communication through trust

To address this critical issue, one of the Central Asia Institute’s partners in Pakistan has devised a program called Menstruation Health Management (MHM) that is changing not only general attitudes but individual lives. The goal is to dispel the myths around menstruation through open discussion and education so girls can gain critical knowledge and confidence, learn appropriate self-care, and be able to continue living their normal lives when they have their period.

One of the most important aspects of the MHM program in Gilgit-Baltistan, which was launched in January 2021, is to ensure that those conducting the training are trusted by the girls and their families. “We decided to choose someone from the local community, who understands their culture and norms and speaks their language,” explained Wajeeha Ahmad, program manager. “Girls and their parents feel more comfortable talking to someone in their own language.”

Khadija is a regional coordinator in Gilgit-Baltistan who’s been doing community work for more than a decade, so she’s experienced and knowledgeable about how to establish a relationship of openness and trust. However, dealing with the taboo subject of menstruation presented new challenges, even for her.

“The first time I was in the field, it was very difficult. There was so much hesitation and shyness about having a lady come into the village to talk about this issue,” said Khadija. Still was able to break the ice by first establishing a the village. “I told them about my own personal experiences so I could build a relationship and create a space for them to share their feelings and concerns.”

Once that barrier was broken, Khadija encouraged the mothers to talk to their daughters, and then began to have sessions with the girls themselves. “The sessions make the girls more confident to talk about these issues with their mothers and the instructors. They help them overcome their fears about going out of the house when they’re menstruating.”

Proper hygiene promotes health and instills confidence

While discussing the feelings and emotions that surround the topic of menstruation is important, it’s also crucial to educate girls about proper care and hygiene. This not only protects their health; it also gives them the security of knowing they can handle the days of bleeding without worrying about the embarrassment of leaking or spotting.

Part of the MHM program is to provide girls with kits that contain sanitary napkins. Girls are accustomed to using cloth pads that they make at home and then wash, which can be both ineffective and unhygienic. By introducing them to sanitary napkins, they learn about healthier, more effective ways to manage their bleeding.

Because buying commercial, disposable pads each month is not feasible for most low-income households, girls are taught how to make their own pads using cotton and cloth rather than cloth alone. They are also taught how to dispose of them properly. These frank discussions and hands-on instructions further give girls the confidence that they can go out in public and attend school without fear.

The program is embraced by both mothers and daughters

The response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, with mothers and daughters openly discussing an issue that was once verboten. “The girls didn’t even talk about it amongst themselves,” said Khadija. “Now they talk about it with their younger sisters and cousins. It’s a huge success just having them talk.”

Khadija also sees improvements in girls’ health and hygiene. “Previously, they experienced more pain and infections, and they didn’t even understand why,” she noted. “Now they know what the pain is from and how they can both prevent it and treat it. We even provide hot and cold pads to help relieve the pain.”

And of course, one of the most gratifying results of the program is an increase in school attendance among girls. “Before they would prefer to just stay home and avoid leaving their houses. Now they have their kits with a zipper and pads, so no one can see,” said Khadija. “They have their manual outlining the three steps to making their own pads, so they can go out and go to school.”

According to program manager Wajeeha Ahmad, MHM instructors also talk to girls about recognizing inappropriate touching and harassment and how to deal with them. “The instructors are trained to recognize any concerning changes in behavior among the girls,” she said.

In addition to supporting the MHM program, Central Asia Institute works to help these communities build the toilets, latrines, and washing facilities schools need to accommodate girls and ensure they feel comfortable and safe attending school. It’s all part of CAI’s unwavering commitment to helping girls get the education they need to learn, grow, and prosper.

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