In a vocational training center in the western Afghan city of Herat, WFP food assistance is helping more than 300 men and women learn marketable skills.
A few months ago, they were so-called “returnees” – Afghans who had lived as refugees in neighboring Iran for many years, and who had come back to their home country. Now, they are aspiring tailors, plumbers, bakers and beauticians, ready to look for jobs in the bustling town of Herat.
The training center is operated by a German NGO called HELP. Since 2010, WFP has been supporting the trainees by providing them with monthly food rations. Alfred Horn, the regional director for HELP, is proud to explain that more than 5,000 people have been trained in this center so far. In Alfred’s words, WFP food plays a major role to ensure regular attendance of the trainees in the classes. “The food is absolutely necessary to make it possible for the students to attend class,” he explains.
Mohammad Ayoub is a student of the plumbing class. The 20-year-old boy is originally from Herat province, but he and his family only came back to Afghanistan two months ago, having spent the previous six years in Iran. Ayoub was then introduced to this center and he has been learning plumbing for one month.
Before going to Iran, Ayoub studied only up to the fifth grade of primary school. “We moved to Iran and, could not continue studying. We are poor, and I had to support my family,” says Ayoub.
The center was recently visited by a representative of WFP’s largest donor, USAID. Barry Burnett, a Washington based Food for Peace Officer, said it was an impressive project. “This endeavor reflects a high level of efficiency and impact. It offers hope for a better life for thousands of Afghan refugees returning from Iran, often under duress,” said Burnett.
The 22 courses on offer run for six months, during which a food ration is provided. The center will also help beneficiaries for an additional two months while they try to find jobs with local businesses. More than 60 percent of all trainees have found a job, often directly related with the skills they learned under the program. “Our courses are quite specialized,” explains Alfred. “Something generic, like basic tailoring skills, won’t give our students a competitive edge. But a specialization in curtain making, for example, is a skill that can be marketed.” The course that fills up first for the women is the beauty school. “Beauty parlor skills are really useful for the women – they can easily do this work from their own home or in their neighborhood.” The school makes use of local expertise and resources – the leatherwork teacher, for example, has decades of experience in his craft.
HELP has also established a showroom to promote sales of the handicrafts made at the school. The sales point is set inside a women’s center that also has a coffee shop, an internet café and a beauty salon – a safe haven where women can relax, socialize and shop. Ruqia Khairkhwah is in charge of the showroom, which is packed to the ceiling with all kinds of trinkets and handicrafts. She happily describes the environment that she and her colleagues have established for women and families: “The women feel very comfortable here. We have visitors from remote villages, and when they come here they relax and even take off their burqas.”
Photo: Bary Burnett, a Food for Peace Officer for USAID, at the showroom where trainees' crafts are displayed and sold. Photo: WFP/Julie Martinez