Matiullah was two and a half years old, lying in his mother’s arms, when the rocket hit.
Accompanied by a deafening blast, the ceiling collapsed on them in a shower of wood and earth. They could see nothing in the clouds of dust.
“We just heard an echoing sound, and boom!” says his mother, Roogul Bibi. “Both Matiullah and I were injured.”
“I was hit on the head and leg,” Matiullah, said. “The incident left me with a permanent disability.”
The rocket attack happened in 1992, at the start of Afghanistan’s long and bloody civil war, and left Matiullah with physical and mental scars. Growing up, he thought his future had been ruined, and that he would never get a decent job. When Roogul took her family to Pakistan to escape the violence, the young Matiullah sold water on the streets for two rupees a glass, and later, food at the market.
After the security situation improved in 2008, the family moved back to Afghanistan. Today, Matiullah, 29, lives with his father in the city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan.
And his life has turned around.
His fears of lifelong unemployment did not come to pass. Instead, early in 2019, an elder in his village told him about a training programme in a local garment factory and encouraged him to apply.
UNDP’s Support Afghanistan Livelihoods and Mobility (SALAM) project, implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and funded by the Government of Finland, is creating real difference in the lives of vulnerable Afghanis.
The SALAM project supports trainees for six months. The first three months is on-the-job training, where the Afghanistan Centre for Excellence (ACE), a job-creation contractor of the SALAM project, is responsible for paying the wages.
“I was so thankful that the SALAM project helped me achieve my dream of becoming a tailor,” Matiullah says.
He’s learning to make shirts, suits, and graduation uniforms and is now making a far better living than he did when he was a refugee in Pakistan. He received US$120 for the first two months and US$180 for the third month. Once trainees successfully complete three months, the second phase of job placement begins. When employed, ACE pays 30 percent of the salary and the employer picks up the remainder.
The money is an important source of pride and self esteem for Matiullah, because he can now support his loved ones.
“I am earning and fulfilling the whole family’s needs,” he says.
As Matiullah sees his options expand, he has increased the scale of his ambition, hoping to use and build on his skills to eventually become a business owner.
“I have plans for the future,” he says. “I would like to open a small tailoring shop of my own.”
There are 25 trainees working at the factory, and most of them are likely to end up permanently employed there.
Facing poor prospects, for economic or other reasons, talented and educated Afghans have in the past chosen to migrate to neighbouring countries. Many are now returning. The SALAM project hopes to provide a path for returnees and internally displaced persons to find fulfilling work and prosperity. The project makes a special effort to include vulnerable groups such as women, young people and those living with disabilities.
Matiullah is leading the way — living proof that it can be done.
“Like me, there are many others living with disabilities. Old and young people are unemployed. I ask the SALAM project to continue their work; help all these poor people, just like they helped me,” he says.
Never lose hope
Afghanis call Jalalabad the ‘evergreen’ city, due to its temperate climate. It’s known for its citrus fruit, cane-processing, honey, olive processing, sugar-refining and paper-making industries.
The SALAM project is rapidly expanding throughout the city. Three hundred people are receiving training in entrepreneurship, 600 men and women benefit from vocational training, and 200 have participated in job-creation programmes.
Having experienced unemployment himself, Matiullah would like to be an inspiration to everyone he knows. His message to others is, “Never lose hope and don’t give up on life easily. Be brave — you can do more than you can imagine.”
Story, photos and video by UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat. Photo Editing by Rico Cruz, photography intern at UNDP New York.