People in Need supported 9,168 families in Afghanistan through Self-Help Groups, literacy courses and vocational trainingsPublished: Jan 14, 2019 Reading time: 7 minutes
After four years, we are close to end of the East-West Livelihood Initiative for Uprooted People (EWLI) in Herat and Jalalabad cities. The project funded by the European Union, Czech Development Agency and People in Need’s Club of Friends and Real Gift directly supported 9,168 families in the west and east of Afghanistan. The goal of the project was to contribute to the sustainable economic and social integration of uprooted people and host communities in Afghan urban informal settlements.
“The specific objective of the action was to improve the resilience and self-reliance of protracted internally displaced people and vulnerable host community households through increased access to sustainable livelihoods, promotion of social integration and greater coordination among stakeholders in Herat and Jalalabad cities,” says Najibullah* People in Needְ’s Program Manager. A complex approach and set of activities was mobilised to achieve this goal, ranging from community based Self-Help Groups to literacy courses, vocational skills trainings and support to obtain civil documentation.
Self-Help Groups changed the lives of the most vulnerable people in Herat and Jalalabad cities
A Self-Help Group (SHG) is a voluntary financial saving association comprised of a small homogenous group of people in a l community. The basic idea is for the group to come together at regular intervals (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly) and contribute a small amount of money (for example 20, 50 or 100 AFN per person) to a communal fund. This money is kept in a savings box, recorded in a ledger and can be loaned out to members of the group with agreed upon conditions. “The central idea behind the Self-Help Group approach is to tackle poverty, enable social and economic empowerment and support the advancement of gender equality,” says Najibullah.
Under EWLI, People in Need (PIN) has established 349 SHGs with 6,946 members (over 70% of whom are women) in Herat and Jalalabad cities. As of December 2018, the SHGs saved a combined total of 21,404,600 AFN. “In total, 8,342 revolving loans have been distributed among the members of the Self-Help Groups; over 78% are used for starting or developing businesses,” Najibullah explains. “Apart from the improved economic situation, members report broadened social networks, improved community cohesion and self-reliance,” he adds.
Women especially see significant changes in their lives. “These groups bring social change into our lives. We see different people and learn about varying ideas. We sit with them and get different ideas about business or about our society. Before we started coming to the group, we didn't know each other. Now we meet and we talk with each other. We used to sit on the street without work, but now that we joined this group, we focus on business, education, and how to invite others to the group. Before we were not working, and when our family members asked us for help, we couldn't help them. But now we are able to help,” says one of the members of a women’s Self-Help Group organised in Jalalabad.
Literacy and numeracy trainings contribute to participants’ success
Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, currently estimated at around 38% of the adult population (over 15 years of age) . According to UNESCO, the female literacy rate in Afghanistan is 18%. Apart from the practical implications in every-day life, being able to read and write significantly increases one’s chances of finding a job and is a strong determinant of resilience. The benefits of being literate, particularly for women, have been widely documented and accepted. Literacy has a positive impact on earnings and economic growth .
To address the low literacy rates, PIN, under the EWLI project has offered literacy and numeracy trainings to illiterate people in Herat and Jalalabad cities. PIN cooperates with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Literacy Departments at the provincial level to provide high quality training in line with approved curricula and training standards. Literacy teachers are selected directly from the target communities. “In total we established 290 literacy courses in target communities and 5,800 students enrolled in them. 70% of them are women,” says Najibullah adding that the average final literacy test score achieved was 80%.
The literacy training is contributing to beneficiaries’ success in different aspects of their lives, such as the ability to maintain record keeping in SHGs, effective participation in vocational skills training, and the ability to effectively carry out small business related transactions. “We had been living in Deh-Bala district of Nangarhar province where I didn’t have access to education. But after we moved to Jalalabad city I joined the literacy course that was established by PIN in our area in February 2017. Within the first six months of the literacy course I was able to read and write,” says Siddiqa*, a graduate from Jalalabad.
Vocational skills trainings tackle youth unemployment
According to World Bank data, almost 40% of Afghans live under the poverty line. Afghanistan is a young country (almost half of Afghans are younger than 15 ) with a 3% population growth rate. Apart from 400,000-450,000 youth entering the workforce annually, 2016 presented additional challenges for an already fragile Afghan economy, with over 800,000 Afghan refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan, followed by another 546,000 in 2017 .
To tackle the high unemployment rates and soaring levels of poverty, PIN offers vocational skills training, carefully selected based on current market trends and demands. “Trainings are followed by intensive post-graduation support such as internships, exposure visits, creation of business linkages, business trainings and start-up toolkits, to enable the most vulnerable people to gain stable income, either through employment or starting their own business,” Najibullah explains.
The East-West Livelihood Initiative has provided a complex package of vocational skills training to over 1,711 of the most vulnerable individuals in Herat and Jalalabad cities, over 70% of them women. “Hundreds of students gained practical experience through internships with local companies. Over 85% of graduates are already working in the sectors they were trained in and have established a new source of income for their household,” says Najibullah, adding that important linkages have been established between the vocational trainees and business communities through business roundtables, exposure visits and exhibitions that are organised by PIN. “I must say it was a wonderful feeling when I took my first income and gave it to my family. I am happy and feel proud of having a profession,” says Khadija*, who graduated from an embroidery class.
Support for social Integration of uprooted people in the host communities
To enable people from internally displaced or returnee families to integrate within their current place of residence, PIN combines a range of approaches. “All the beneficiaries received support to obtain civil documentation. Over 1,000 people have received Tazkeras,” says Najibullah.
Additionally, campaigns focusing on benefits of economic integration of uprooted communities target both beneficiaries as well as the broader Herat community, public schools, religious scholars, community leaders, journalists and government representatives via meetings, focus group discussions and exposure visits. “PIN, together, with the beneficiaries themselves, organised public exhibitions, highlighting the skills and services the uprooted people are bringing to their host communities. Over 80% of the visitors to the exhibitions agreed that displaced people contribute to the development of their host communities,” Najibullah explains.
Mixed SHGs create new social networks, strengthen community cohesion and provide community-based protection mechanisms. “There are some displaced people in our group, with people who came from other districts or provinces. I came from Kunar, where the situation wasn't good. There was fighting between the army and the Taliban. I came 2 years ago with my younger brother. I started studying at university here. Before coming, I didn't know anyone in Jalalabad city. But now I know the group and we support each other,” says a member of a men’s Self-Help Group in Jalalabad.
Read stories of supported people:
- I’m so excited, I can now read books and signboards on the streets, says Afghan Gul Afshan
- I feel proud that I can support my family after participating in the self-help group, says Afghan Omid
- Only one month is enough to start the business, says Afghan Fahim. He participated in vocational training in Herat
- I opened my own salon after the beauty parlour vocational training, says Shahzada from Herat in Afghanistan
* Names of people have been changed in the article for security reasons