I am currently in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan. I am here visiting a CIDA-funded, CARE International drought response in Jawzjan and Balkh Provinces. This drought response intervention has two key components: cash-for-work and the construction and rehabilitation of community assets.
The cash-for-work program has allowed vulnerable households to meet their urgent needs by providing income to pay for food, health care and other basic necessities. In the villages I visited, this income meant families were not burdened with debt to pay for basic necessities following last year’s drought. It also meant male heads of family were not forced to leave women and children at home and migrate to neighbouring countries in search of work.
The construction and rehabilitation of community assets will increase the communities’ access to water through the construction and rehabilitation of traditional water provision systems. It has also rehabilitated culverts (little bridges) over water canals, making it safer for communities to move around and, in some cases, reconnect communities that have been otherwise isolated.
During my visit, I also met with the Women’s Sub-committee, a group that was established to ensure women’s participation in these relief projects. In front of me sat 12 diverse and vibrant women, all speaking at once, keen to tell me how these projects were impacting their lives.
With piles of robin’s egg blue burqas in the corner of the room, one bold woman even asked the male community members to leave, so the women could speak more freely. The group told me how much they appreciate CARE’s support and the opportunity to be actively involved in the project.
One of the women I spoke with said that if it hadn’t been for CARE’s support, her husband would have had to leave in search of work. She said, “Instead, he has been at home and has been able to earn a living, so this year has been a good year.”
CARE is also finding creative ways to involve particularly vulnerable women in the cash-for-work program. This is not always easy in a place like Afghanistan, where women’s roles are strictly defined and their participation in hard labour alongside men is not an option. CARE has contracted vulnerable women to provide drinking water for male workers and water for construction activities.
What’s amazing about this is that it not only enables women’s participation in the project, but also ensures that women’s work is given equal weight and equal remuneration.
One of the very vulnerable women I spoke with indicated that she is alone, without a male head of family. She told me that before the project started, she was close to selling her 12-year-old daughter, as she was no longer able to provide for her and her children. The cash-for-work project has meant that she is able to meet her family’s basic needs and her daughter is now safe at home.
What was probably the most impressive out of everything I witnessed was CARE’s relationship with the community. Both women and men emphasized that CARE is a transparent and accountable organization and that CARE works hard to ensure that the community is respected, involved and consulted throughout the project. This has enabled CARE to work with women in the community, when other organizations have not been allowed.
It’s clear that this small drought response project has had a huge impact on these communities. For this, they say thank you – to CARE and to CIDA for making it possible.