“Who would marry a short girl like her? Look at her legs. Why did you come? It’s better you stayed at home.”
This is what Nazia, who was born with a disability, hears from people whenever she goes to a party or a gathering.
Nazia is originally from Afghanistan’s Kunar province, but insecurity in the region drove her family to Jalalabad City. She is clever, and a hard worker, and was determined to achieve her dream of higher education. But because of her disability and the fact that she couldn’t earn money, she had to put her dream on hold.
In Afghanistan higher education continues to be a challenge, especially for women in remote areas, which tend to be socially conservative, and this is compounded for those who live with disabilities. Because of the discrimination they often face, earning a living can seem impossible.
But Nazia was not willing to give up. Determined to be economically independent, she learned embroidery from her older sister and for several months now, she has been working in a local garment factory. This has been possible because of UNDP’s Support Afghanistan Livelihoods and Mobility (SALAM) project, which is funded by the Government of Finland and is providing crucial support for vulnerable Afghanis.
“My brother heard about the SALAM project and carried me to the Department of Labour and Social Affairs (DOLSA) for the programme for disabled citizens. I took an exam there and got selected,” Nazia says.
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’m very happy. I found my trainer, colleagues and the work environment very friendly.” says Nazia. “I feel very happy to be a part of this family. Now I have developed my embroidery skills a lot.”
She 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.
Aside from the monthly incentive, Nazia has developed her own income stream in her spare time, accepting clothes orders from relatives, friends and neighbours. This brings her about US$80 a month.
For Nazia, the professional training is a stepping stone to her ultimate goal.
“I thank everyone involved in this project for having a special quota for disabled people. It is an achievement of a lifetime — finally I can continue to pursue my higher education,” she says.
Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development, especially for women and girls. A small financial contribution to Nazia’s life has not only opened a world of vocational training to her, it’s improved her standing in her community.
“I have proven not only to my relatives but all others that disability does not have to be a barrier for a person to be successful in life. Now I can stand as a symbol for other women living with disability,” she says.
The people of Afghanistan 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.
With funding from the Government of Finland, the Support Afghanistan Livelihoods and Mobility (SALAM) project is implemented as a joint intervention between UNDP, ILO and UNHCR and in full partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) to reflect the common goals of a variety of actors while recognizing and maintaining their separate mandates and areas of expertise and to seek durable solutions for Afghans in line with the government’s vision and strategies for employment generation and labour migration.
Story and photos by UNDP Afghanistan