KUNDUZ -- The United States and France are striving to help relieve poverty in northern Afghanistan by funding a technical and vocational training programme for unemployed women and men.
The Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development (ACTED), a French NGO, is implementing the project with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the French Foreign Ministry.
ACTED has created employment opportunities for around 350 poor women and men in six northern provinces: Balkh, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badghis.
Participants may pick any course, which is based on local market demand and includes motorcycle repair, electrical equipment repair, metalworking, carpentry, tailoring, photography, pastry baking and embroidery, said Nasatullah Hamidi, director of the ACTED regional office in Mazar-e-Sharif.
"The men and women covered under the project chose to learn the skills based on their interests and local market needs," he said.
The courses started in April and will continue for six months. Trainees will also receive a stipend during the course of the programme.
"The participants were unemployed and were identified by ACTED to receive vocational and skill training courses," Hamidi said. "At the end of the course, participants will be provided with relevant tools to establish a business for the skills they have acquired."
"The project aims to discourage the illegal migration of Afghan youth to neighbouring countries, create employment opportunities and reduce poverty," he said.
It also aims to give young Afghans economic self-sufficiency after they complete their training, he said.
"We are aiming to collaborate with the government and other sister organisations to create more employment opportunities for vulnerable people so that they are able to meet their families' needs," he said.
The participants of the training programme expressed optimism about their future income potential.
Akhtar Mohammad, 43, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif, said he chose to learn mobile phone repair at the request of his family and local villagers.
"I have been learning mobile phone repair practically and theoretically for more than a month now," he said. "Nowadays, repairing a mobile phone is a profitable business. I hope to learn the required skills over the next six months and be able to open a shop in the city."
Mohammad said he graduated from high school but could not continue his education because of economic constraints.
"However, I want to learn a skill and become economically independent," he said.
"I love learning metalworking, and this is why I chose to become a professional metalworker," said Sultan Mohammad Safi, a resident of Kunduz city.
"I will learn how to produce a door, a window, an iron fence and other related metalwork items," he said. "I will try to learn the skills as soon as possible and serve my community by opening a shop."
"Acquiring a skill or profession is very good for young people because after they gain the skill they can establish a business and make a living with halal income," Safi said.
Sardar Wali, another trainee at the Mazar-e-Sharif vocational centre, chose to learn tailoring.
"I can now sew a variety of clothes for men and boys," he said.
The training will empower participants to become self-sufficient and build a better future, he said.
"Hundreds of others, like me, who have learned various skills can now earn a [halal] living for their family and children," Sardar said.
Demand for vocational training
Unemployment, especially among youth, has increased since last August, and there is a great demand for education and vocational skills.
With the increase in poverty and unemployment in Afghanistan, Afghans are very concerned about their future, said Zabiullah Sediqi, a civil society activist in Kunduz.
"Funding vocational initiatives helps greatly in making people hopeful about their future," he said. "Those who acquire skills in these sectors will become confident that they will be able to mitigate economic hardships and make a better future for themselves."
Sediqi called on international donors and NGOs to seriously consider the crisis in Afghanistan and to provide vocational training to other young Afghans struggling with poverty and unemployment.
"There is a huge demand for skilled workers across all professions including metalworking, carpentry, tailoring, and repair of electrical appliances and mobile phones," he said. "And those who have professionally learned any of these skills will be able to serve our people and community."