The Afghan Institute of Learning strives to improve the lives of adolescent girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This age group is particularly receptive to new ideas and to taking on new ways of doing things. These girls are the future of change in Afghan society as women are the change makers in family units and are the untapped and underutilized resource for growth in the economy and the creation of a stable society.
AIL seeks to reach adolescent girls through its health and its education programming. The health program combines treatment, education and training, especially in reproductive health. The program is based on a holistic approach providing treatment and education together including: routine care, first aid, nutrition, pharmacy, dental care, reproductive health care as well as preventive care such as vaccinations and education. In 2013, AIL treated over 194,000 people (average of 16,000 per month) at 4 fixed clinics and its mobile clinics and through its Community Health Worker program. In the same time period, AIL provided health education to over 118,000 (average of 9,800 per month) through its clinics, CHWs and workshop offerings. Approximately 70% of those receiving health services are female.
The 2013 health statistics from AIL show some encouraging developments. There was a 40% increase in clinic births from 2012 up by 115 births. 100% of the women who attended the AIL Expectant Mother Workshops chose a clinic birth. This is remarkable in a society where home birth is the norm. Women are seeing clinic births as a safer option. Vaccinations were up by 14% with 7,000 more and CHW visits also increased by 6,000 or 14%. The number of treatments by CHWs dropped for Acute Respiratory Infections by 15% and Diarrhea by 60%. These two numbers show the impact of health education in giving the people the information to take care of themselves. As adolescent girls witness their mothers’ health care choices they take those choices as the norm for their own lives as they become mothers themselves. Girls with better health care and health education are healthier and more able to learn in school and contribute to the family.
Fareshta on of the workshop participants said, “Most of the people who live in our village are uneducated. They suffer many health problems. The women don’t know about reproductive health and many of them lose their lives at the time of delivery. The mothers’ mortality level is very high there. One woman died at the time of birth because her family didn’t let any doctor check her. She and her baby both died. It is very painful for me when I think about them.”
The other element is education of adolescent girls. In 2013, AIL provided education through its Learning Centers to over 23,000 people of these 10,207 or 44 % were adolescent girls. AIL staff encourage families to allow their girls to attend the centers ensuring them that it is safe and appropriate culturally. Girls are learning to read, write, do math and to sew and operate a computer and so much more. It is a transformative thing to be educated and opens so many doors in a young life. Some girls study to get back on track at school others are starting from scratch. All of them gain more than knowledge at the Learning Centers they gain friendship and knowing how to network with other women and that their “sisters” will be there for them in the future.
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