Students Learn a Trade in Afghanistan Hotspot

Friday, February 10, 2012

In an open, dusty part of southern Afghanistan where fighting between Taliban forces and NATO troops is commonplace, and jobs are scarce, an organization is working to train Afghans to make them more employable.

The program seems simple enough — recruit Afghans, supply them with job training and send them back to their communities to make a living.

But the location — in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold and active insurgency against NATO troops — makes it more complicated.

The program is called Invest in Helmand and is run byMercy Corps, a Portland, Ore.-based group with a branch in the UK.

The group started Invest in March 2011 and chose to work in conflict-susceptible Helmand because that’s “where there was most significant demand,” said David Haines, Afghanistan country director for Mercy Corps.

“We were approached by community members and shuras (local councils) to do something about the lack of training opportunities — there are no government training facilities throughout the province.”

Also, Britain’s Department for International Development, which helps fund the program, wanted to focus there because of the presence of British troops, he said.

The Invest program training includes mobile phone, computer and engine repair, carpentry, metal work, embroidery and tailoring. Training sites are in Helmand’s capital Lashkar Gah, Gereshk and most recently Marjah.

Although the program is not even a year old, it has undergone some substantial changes.

“If I look at what we’re delivering now and I look back to the proposal 12 months ago, it’s like night and day, because obviously you learn a huge amount,” said Haines.

For example, Mercy Corps learned that students tended to stay for the duration of the course when they were recruited and referred to the program by their shuras and sponsored by the communities.

“It means there’s an undertaking on the shuras’ part that they will support the students to start the business and the students are much more likely to stay for the duration of the course because they’ve raised an expectation within their own communities that it’s a privileged position to be put forward to these courses. And so they have to make the most of it,” Haines said.

It also removes Mercy Corps from the picture somewhat, which is a good thing, he said. “There’s a switch from Mercy Corps directly implementing something in the community to facilitating people already in the community to do the same thing. It makes things a lot more sustainable and culturally appropriate.”

Source: PBS (link opens in a new window)

Education, Impact Assessment
rural development, skill development