AIL recently received an update from Hafisa, a young woman that had taken classes at a Women’s Learning Center in rural Herat, Afghanistan. As a teenage girl, Hafisa began going to the WLC in her village where she became literate and learned to sew. In all of her classes, the teachers talked about human rights, peace, health and leadership, emphasizing that anyone can be a leader, even if in a small way.
After graduating from the center, Hafisa was married and moved away. Hafisa’s sewing skills quickly made her popular in her new village with many people bringing her dresses for sewing. Soon, people in the village began asking her to open a center and teach other women to sew. Hafisa remembered the leadership lessons she learned at the AIL WLC in her village and knew that she could start a class.
Starting a center to teach women to sew is a fairly novel concept. At first, her family ignored the requests, but due to community persistence, Hafisa’s family eventually allowed her to open a center in her home. Now she uses one room of her house to teach a sewing class and has 40 students. She collects a fee from the students, and this income has helped to change her family’s economic situation. She is respected in her community and her family is proud of her. Whenever she goes to her own village to see her parents, she visits the AIL center and thanks AIL for giving her the opportunity to be a useful person in her community. Not only did Hafisa learn to sew, she learned to be a leader and found that she could run a self-sufficient center.
A student of one of AIL’s centers says, “When I came to this center, I was hopeless because I was not sure that I could learn to sew, and wanted to learn so that I could support my family with this skill. My father died and my mother works in a rich man’s house as a cleaner. She leaves each day at 6:00 am and comes back home at 7:30 pm. Day by day, with my interest and effort and my teacher encouraging me, I learned to sew. Finally I reached a high enough level that my teacher helped me to market my skills and introduced me to her customers. The customers bring me materials for sewing and I charge them for sewing clothes from these materials. Through my business I can support my family. I must thank AIL for providing this opportunity for women who are poor and do not have much education.”
During 2008 the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) trained 2153 women in sewing and tailoring class in AIL Learning Centers. 95 – 100% of the women trained in the centers say that they use the skills learned in these classes to help support their families. Often, the women who begin coming to the Learning Centers to take sewing and tailoring courses end up also taking literacy courses.
This is the case with a female student who was recently promoted to the sixth grade. She says, “I am very happy, so much that I can’t explain, but you can see it on my face. Today, my eyes are familiar with reading and my hands familiar with sewing, all because of the AIL Office and their kind trainers. I and all of the center students always pray for Professor Sakena Yacoobi (the executive director of AIL) and all of her staff for giving us the opportunity to come out of our homes and learn many things from our kind teachers, it is a bright spot in our lives. Always, it has been my wish to be literate, work somewhere and do things to help my family and my people and thank God, now I can do it.”
One success story illustrating how the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) not only trains women to support themselves but also empowers them to be leaders in their communities comes from one of AIL’s sewing and tailoring training courses in Herat. Parima was a student in one of AIL’s WLCs in Herat Province. Since completing the course, she has established her own business sewing garments and is earning a good income. Because Parima’s village didn’t have a center, Parima began training women and girls in tailoring. She is now working in conjunction with AIL and when Parima’s students complete her course they will be allowed to take AIL’s final sewing exam. After successfully completing the exam, the students will be awarded with a certificate from AIL.
Classes in tailoring continue to be one of the most popular and economically beneficial classes offered in the Afghan Institute of Learning’s Women Learning Centers (WLC). In June 2008, there were 1,226 Afghan females in tailoring classes in 20 centers in Kabul and Herat, Afghanistan and in the WLCs in Peshawar, Pakistan. There are currently 48 classes being held, with 14 – 43 students in each class.
Following is a story from a 28 year old woman who graduated from one of the Afghan Institute of Learning’s (AIL) tailoring classes in Herat that shows the benefit of the tailoring classes as well as the benefit of the centers as a whole:
“When I was in Iran 2 years ago, I was concerned about what will happen to me when I return to my country. Would I be able to go in school or some educational center to be an educated person like Iranians? But when we came back to our country and moved to this village, after a short time, I found the AIL center and lots of women going and coming from this center. I felt that it is the best place for the improvement of women who want to learn some thing. I went there and enrolled in literacy, tailoring and holy Quran classes. I have attended these three classes in one center and was very happy because every day, I met at least 400 women from my community. And the quality of this center was very good because the teachers were updated by AIL through providing seminars and training. So the methods they taught were the best and students learnt very fast. Today after 2 years, I have completed the 5th grade of literacy, Holy Quran and the sewing course. I feel I am very lucky to have this opportunity to learn these all things and now I can work to support my family. I can read the magazine, newspaper and also I can help my children in their lessons and home work."
Classes in tailoring continue to be one of the most popular classes offered in AIL’s Women Learning Centers. After six months of intensive study, the women are able to sew their own clothes and also sew for others. Their skill helps their families because it decreases the amount that must be paid to outside tailors and, in some cases, allows the woman to earn money for her family by sewing clothes of neighbors and relatives.
There is an added benefit for the women coming for the tailoring classes as most also then take literacy classes and learn to read and write. While in their tailoring class, they are also taught about health, human rights and peace while they sew.
In 2007, there have been more than 900 women studying in tailoring classes in the Kabul, Balkh and Herat Provinces and in AIL’s Women’s Learning Centers in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Following is the story of one woman who came to AIL’s Women’s Learning Center as written and translated by one of the AIL staff members. The story shows not only how beneficial the sewing class was but also how the literacy and other classes were of benefit to her:
• “When I became aware of this center [AIL’s Center], I came and started learning in the sewing class but because I was illiterate I could not pass so I decided to go to the literacy class and besides that I got admission in the embroidery class. After I passed the 2nd grade, again I got admission in the sewing class. This time I could pass the course with an excellent score. Now I am able to sew clothes with good designs and embroidery and through it I have a good income for myself and my family.”
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