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Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008

READERS' FUND

NGO helps improve Afghan females' lives


Staff writer

Second in a series

Kyoto-based nongovernmental organization Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) is working to broaden career chances for Afghan women by promoting literacy and information technology skills.

News photo
Career chance: Afghan women attend a computer class sponsored by NICCO in Herat, Afghanistan, earlier this year. COURTESY OF NICCO

Using ¥178,119 from The Japan Times Readers' Fund, the group offers women in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, a free course on basic writing in the Dari language, workshops on women's rights, and IT training classes.

With the support of NICCO, 20 women are currently attending a writing and reading class, and 60 are taking an IT class, the group said.

"We could only accept 30 women in the first year of our IT class, but about 100 women applied for the course. This proves Afghan women are motivated to learn," said Kazuki Nemoto, a staffer in Kyoto in charge of the project.

In 2002, NICCO got involved in training local medical staff, rebuilding schools and teaching farming. But as other NGOs and governments began helping to improve infrastructure, the group opted to put more weight on women's education in 2006, in collaboration with NGOs in Afghanistan and NICCO's branch in Mashad, Iran.

Although school enrollment has considerably increased since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghan girls and women are still at a disadvantage in terms of education.

According to a 2006 UNICEF survey, the literacy rate for Afghan men between the ages of 15 to 24 was 51 percent, while for females the figure was only 18 percent.

"Afghan society is still male-dominated, so, for example, we offer free stationery to our students to let their families know there are some benefits to attending our lessons," Nemoto said.

Although the group was forced to shut down its Afghanistan bureau in August 2007 due to the armed conflict, the writing and reading course, and IT course it sponsored have continued with support from local aid groups.

According to a UNICEF report, 70 percent of the country still lives in poverty and substandard conditions.

The NGO first formed to support Cambodian refugees in 1979. It changed its name to NICCO in 1988 as its projects spread to other countries.



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