Afghan Women’s And Kids’ Education & Necessities, Inc.
Bibi Bahrami is the Founder and President of Afghan Women’s And Kids’ Education & Necessities (AWAKEN), Inc. Bibi is a native of the village of Qala-e-Malakh, located in the Behsood District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, which is about 9 kilometers northeast of the city of Jalalabad in the eastern part of the country. While still in elementary school, she was forced to suddenly flee her home with her family due to the Russian invasion. The family walked to Peshawar, in Pakistan, through the Khyber Pass, and lived in a refugee camp for several years. She came to the United States in the early 1980’s to join her fiancé and soon to be husband Saber Bahrami, a physician from Afghanistan who continued his medical training in the U.S. and who had settled down to practice family medicine in Muncie, Indiana.
Since her arrival in the U.S., Bibi’s passion had been to start an organization to raise funds to help women and girls in Afghanistan. Prior to the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the literacy rate in Afghanistan was 47% for men but only 15% for women. 80% of the schools in the country had been damaged or destroyed due to war. Only 39% of boys and 3% of girls were enrolled in school. The role of women had been of great concern. Bibi was especially concerned about the women and girls in her hometown and in the Behsood district. Many of her relatives had returned to Qala-e-Malakh.
Bibi’s vision included raising money to build an elementary school in Qala-e-Malakh. In late 2002, Bibi got together several acquaintances who were energized by her vision and talked about starting a 501(C)(3)charitable organization and obtaining tax-exempt status, thus vastly expanding their ability to work hard and raise the needed funding to take on such a vast project.
The group learned that the “school” in the village was not even housed indoors, i.e. classes were held outside in the courtyard of the community center. As the group talked, the vision expanded to meeting other fundamental needs. The nation and, more specifically, the region was economically depressed. Women did not know how to read and many did not know about basic health needs. The area also had no medical facility, with residents having to either go to Pakistan for medical care, or go without. There was also considerable hunger and the infant mortality rate was the highest of any country in the world.
With Bibi’s passion and vision, the group formed a Board of Directors, developed By Laws and in 2002, became incorporated. It then obtained obtained tax exempt status in 2003. The organization was named, Afghan Women and Kids Education and Necessities, or AWAKEN. The group went about planning its first annual fundraising dinner. The plan was to raise money and work with a sister organization in Afghanistan run by Bibi’s brother, Noor, a trained engineer. The sister organization, also named AWAKEN, became registered as a Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO, with the Afghan government. The sister organization would help determine the needs, work with village and District leaders, and together with AWAKEN would develop a budget and fund it.
Communication with Noor at first was not easy. At the time, he had to go to an internet café in Pakistan to send and receive emails from us. There was no banking system in Afghanistan then, so money was wired through a bank in Pakistan. The entire infrastructure of the country was practically non-existent. By 2004, the elementary school was a reality. The work was managed by Noor utilizing local labor, using plans he developed, and using local materials where possible. It took several months to build but in the process, it provided employment to those involved in its construction. It had six classrooms and housed 221 students from grades 1-6. Within the year, the need for more classrooms to accommodate grades 7 and 8 was evident, so three more classrooms were added. If boys were to further their education, they might be sent to another village with a school, but parents are reluctant to do the same with girls.
Within a couple of years, the Afghan government assumed responsibility for the school so it was turned over to them. By 2009, enrollment had risen to 730 students. There is still the need for a high school. Without one, only some boys and likely few girls would be able to continue their education.
There were also many adult women with limited literacy and other skills. Unfortunately there still are today. Starting in 2005, AWAKEN developed vocational tailoring programs which consisted of six months of learning to use sewing machines to make clothing, while at the same time being taught how to read, as well as about basic health practices. With these skills, they could better care for themselves and their families. Upon graduation, they are given a sewing machine and materials. The first class graduated 32 women and in 2011, 24 women graduated. Since the first program, AWAKEN has provided a total of nine programs, each in different villages within the Behsood District. For many women, these skills mean that their ability to survive with dignity has improved. Moreover, they can now contribute to their family and community self sufficiency.
AWAKEN would like to turn over the responsibility for operating the Health Clinic to the Afghan government, so that it can focus on other needed projects. Among these would be: building a high school, possibly building a school in another area of the district, and continuing women’s vocational programs. Preliminary communication with the government suggests that this may be possible, but the extent to which AWAKEN will relinquish some or all control will depend on the government’s requirements for the facility and whether they will continue to support AWAKEN’s goals for it.
Qala-e-Malakh’s population has grown from a few thousand from the time our first project began to now approximately 21,000. The presence of a school and clinic has been a major factor in many refugees slowly returning to the area. The story continues – and with your support we will be able to do even more to enrich the lives of thousand and to promote peace through education and an improved quality of life.