Origins of AWAKEN
In 2000, two years before AWAKEN was founded,the literacy rate in Afghanistan was 47% for men and only 15% for women. More than 80% of the schools in the country had been damaged or destroyed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and only 39% of boys and 3% of girls were enrolled in school.
Healthcare was no better. The United Nations called Afghanistan “the worst place in the world for a woman to become pregnant.”
In 2002, Bibi Bahrami decided that her home village of Qala-e-Malakh, in the Behsood District, needed to build an elementary school. She shared her vision with friends and acquaintances in Indiana, who were surprised to learn that the village’s “school” had no building but instead held classes outside, in the courtyard of the community center. As the group talked, their vision expanded to meeting other fundamental needs created by war and poverty. Women did not know how to read, for example, and many did not know about basic health needs. The area had no medical facility, forcing residents to go to Pakistan for medical care—or go without. Families went hungry, and the infant mortality rate was the highest of any country in the world.
Driven by passion and vision for improving the lives of Qala-e-Malakh’s residents, Bibi led the group in founding AWAKEN, Inc., and established its sister organization, AWAKEN Afghanistan, which became a registered Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the Afghan government. AWAKEN Afghanistan would identify the village’s and district’s most pressing needs, while working with local leaders, and AWAKEN, Inc., in the U.S., would raise both funds and awareness to meet those needs.
Communication with Noor, the first director of AWAKEN Afghanistan, was not easy at first. He had to go to an internet café in Pakistan to send and receive emails from AWAKEN’s U.S. leaders, and because Afghanistan had no banking system—or any real infrastructure—money was wired through a bank in Pakistan.
Rapid Growth in Healthcare, Education, and Vocational Training
By 2004, however, after a successful fundraising campaign, the elementary school was built, and 221 students, in grades 1-6, were soon enrolled. The school’s six classrooms weren’t enough, though, and three more classrooms were added to accommodate grades 7 and 8. By 2009, enrollment had risen to 730 students, and oversight of the school was turned over to the Afghan government. By 2014, the school had grown to 1,350 students in grades 1-11.
After education, AWAKEN’s leaders turned their attention to problems faced by women, many of whom had lost their fathers, husbands, and sons and who therefore had no means of supporting themselves. Most were illiterate, and many didn’t know how to keep their families healthy through simple hygiene practices. Starting in 2005, then, AWAKEN launched a vocational tailoring program, which teaches women how to use sewing machines to make clothing. They also learn how to read and how to maintain healthier homes and families. Upon graduation from the six-month program, each woman is given a sewing machine and tailoring materials.
The first class graduated 32 women, and since then AWAKEN has offered an average of two programs per year, each in a different village within the Behsood District. For many women, these skills allow them to become self-sufficient, enhance their dignity, and support their community.
In 2008, AWAKEN launched the Behsood Health Clinic, which became the first (and only) medical facility in the entire district. Four short years later, the clinic was treating nearly 20,000 patients every year, most of them women and children.
The clinic’s healthcare initiatives soon expanded to include a mobile vaccinator, who travels to other villages in the Behsood District to vaccinate children and adults against polio, measles, and other diseases. In 2016, AWAKEN added a Maternal and Child Health unit, which made it possible to offer much-needed healthcare to expectant mothers seven days a week. With this facility, AWAKEN has been able to dramatically improve the care that pregnant women, new mothers, and newborns can receive in this region of Afghanistan.
Altogether, the Behsood Health Clinic now treats more than 36,000 patients each year!