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Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009

READERS' FUND

Group teaching Afghan women literacy, IT skills


Staff writer

Fourth in a series

Nonprofit organization Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development, or NICCO, has been working to widen career opportunities for Afghan women by promoting literacy and information technology skills.

News photo
Becoming independent: Afghan women attend a local school supported by Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development. COURTESY OF NICCO

Using ¥171,003 from The Japan Times Readers' Fund, the Kyoto-based group offers women in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, a free course on basic reading and writing in the Dari language, IT training classes and workshops on women's rights.

With the support of NICCO, 20 women are currently attending a one-year reading and writing course, while 90 are taking a three-month IT class, the group said.

"The literacy rate for Afghan women is one of the lowest in the world. The figure for men is 43 percent, while that for women is only 12 percent," Kazuki Nemoto, who works in a NICCO branch in Mashad, Iran, said in an e-mail.

"By providing such courses, women who couldn't earn and depended on men are able to gain information and knowledge by themselves and can educate children with confidence," he said, adding he believes educating women in Afghanistan will help reconstruct the war-torn country.

In 2002, NICCO mainly rebuilt schools and trained local medical staff and farmers in Afghanistan.

But as nongovernment organizations and other countries began helping to improve the nation's social infrastructure, NICCO in 2006 decided to put more emphasis on women's education, in collaboration with NGOs in Afghanistan and the group's branch in Iran.

Although NICCO was forced to shut down its Afghanistan bureau in August 2007 because of the ongoing conflict, the courses it sponsored have continued with support from local aid groups.

"Currently we are indirectly in charge of the project through telephone and e-mails with local groups. We also invite a representative of the groups to our Iran branch for meetings. But sometimes it is difficult to communicate with them (due to the unreliable telecom infrastructure)," said Nemoto.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 1 million refugees from Afghanistan reside in Iran. But Nemoto said he believes this figure is probably higher, if those who are not officially counted as refugees are included.

"Refugees came to Iran when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, (more came) during the Taliban regime and also during the conflict since 2001, but some emmigrate to Iran to work," he added.

Nemoto said he hopes that NICCO can continue its projects supporting education, agriculture and the construction of facilities in Afghanistan, as well as conducting job training programs in Iran for Afghan refugees.

The group was 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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