• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Afghanistan at the crossroads: Street kids turn from beggars to beauticians

News Stories, 12 November 2008

© UNHCR/R.Arnold
Beauty Class: The Social Volunteer Foundation keeps returnee children off the streets of Kabul by teaching them vocational skills, including beauty parlour arts.

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 12 (UNHCR) Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families.

A UNHCR-funded project is working to bring change. Since 2001, the Social Volunteers Foundation (SVF) has been keeping returnee children off the streets. It teaches them to read and write, gives them room to play, and imparts vocational skills such as tailoring, beauty parlour and flower making.

"They start in Class 2 and move up one level every six months," says Freshta Abdullah, a programme officer for SVF. "On average, they stay with us for two years, so they finish Class 4 and we transfer them to Class 5 in a government school. Public school is free, so everyone from a prince to a beggar can get an education."

Khatera, 14, returned from Attock in Pakistan's Punjab province last year. "We were weaving carpets in Pakistan and had no time for school," she says, while working on a sewing machine in her tailoring course. "Until recently, I only knew how to weave. But now I can write my own name."

Lessons are based on the Afghan curriculum under an arrangement with the Ministry of Education. In addition, there are also classes and discussions on the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, early marriage and sexual and gender-based violence. Time has also been set aside for recreational activities gymnastics, table tennis and other sports.

For many of the children, the highlight of their six-day week here is vocational training. The most popular course is the beauty parlour, where girls aged 12 to 17 learn how to apply make-up, pluck eyebrows, style and colour hair, and do manicures and pedicures.

"Make-up is needed for every occasion engagements, weddings and other celebrations," says SVF's Abdullah. "A professional can get 10,000 Afghanis (US$200) per wedding by providing head-to-toe services."

Besides the potentially lucrative pay, the hands-on course is just plain fun. It offers a rare chance for this group of underprivileged girls to fuss over each other. They work with quiet efficiency, brushing, buffing and twirling gawky teenagers into beautiful women.

Aqila, 13, is busy with the curlers. Her parents have 11 children, and they struggled to get by as refugees in Pakistan's commercial capital of Karachi. "We decided to come back two years ago when things improved in Afghanistan," she recalls. "My family is weaving carpets now but the money is not predictable. When I graduate, I want to set up my own beauty parlour."

Next door, another group is wielding brushes, this time on canvas. The teacher himself graduated from here and has divided the drawing course into two levels sketching and oil painting so that he can give each student the appropriate attention. They touch on the basics of drawing, such as light and shadows, portraits and silhouettes. The most popular works often depict Afghan scenery or culture.

Raza, 15, was always interested in art but didn't get to pursue it as he dropped out of school in Iran in Class 2. While in Iran, he made shoes for a living while his father was a butcher. "We decided to come back in February because we faced many problems I couldn't go to school and my father lost his job," he says.

Life has not improved since. His father and brother are both jobless and living in debt. His younger siblings are struggling to continue school. Raza found out about SVF's art course from a friend, and has decided to become an artist specializing in nature paintings.

Downstairs, the flower-making course teaches designs for wedding cards, gift wrapping and flower bouquets. A dozen flower posters sell for 250-300 Afghanis and are in demand year round for weddings, engagements and Haj homecoming.

All courses at SVF are free. Each student is given school supplies, stationery and a monthly transport grant. Graduates receive certificates from the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled. Given the value of literacy and skills training in job-scarce Kabul, there should be a waiting list to get into the programme. But some students have dropped out instead.

"The dropout rate is highest among the recent returnees," explains SVF Director Ali Rahim Ghaznawi. "If the family cannot find work in Kabul, they move to another area or province. It's too far for the children to continue coming here."

The Foundation itself faces constant challenges. A lack of funding has forced it to cancel courses in English language, computer and musical instruments. "Our music graduates are fully booked for weddings," says Dr Ghaznawi proudly. But if the funding situation continues and more courses are cut, there could be little left to celebrate for the street children of Kabul.

Education and livelihood are among the many issues to be addressed at an international conference on return and reintegration on November 19. Jointly organized by the Afghan government and UNHCR, the conference seeks to channel resources towards national development programmes that include returnees, ensuring more sustainable returns in future.

By Vivian Tan in Kabul, Afghanistan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Children

Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Teaching About Refugees, Art

Refugees contribute to the culture of their host community. Some are well-known artists, painters, poets or novelists. Dante Alighieri created the major part of his work during his exile. Playwright Bertold Brecht, authors Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, poets Pablo Neruda and Jorge Semprun, musician Miguel Angel Estrellas, painters Lucian Freud and Remedios Varo - all suffered periods of exile which, in some cases, deeply colored their work. The theme of exile can be studied in literature, the history of music and art.


9-11 year olds A Response Through Artwork
12-14 year olds Repatriation and Graphic Communication
15-18 year olds Art in Nazi Germany - When Art and Politics didn't Agree

Art

How the theme of exile can be introduced into lessons on the history of music and art.

Repatriation and Graphic Communication

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in Art: Repatriation and Graphic Communication

When art and politics didn't agree

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 15-18 in Art: Art in Nazi Germany - When art and politics didn't agree

Education

Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's ChildrenPlay video

South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's Children

Years of violence and bloodshed in South Sudan robbed Abuk of her seven children. When fighting returned last year, the old lady fled anew with her grandchildren, hampered by deteriorating eyesight.
Iraq: Children traumatised by the terror of flightPlay video

Iraq: Children traumatised by the terror of flight

When militants attacked Sinjar and other towns in northern Iraq in early August, tens of thousands of people fled into the mountains. They included many traumatised children, whose lives were brutally disrupted by violence and their sudden displacement.
Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship Play video

Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship

"Every time I try to sleep I see what I saw in the water, what happened to me, the dead children" Thamer & Thayer, brothers from Syria, escaped war, then unrest in Libya only to be faced with death on the Mediterranean The Lampedusa boat tragedies sparked a debate on asylum policies in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Called Mare Nostrum, the operation has rescued more than 63,000 people.