Bridging the gap of distance and culture, the organization Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan works to empower the women of Afghanistan and lift the entire country to hire rates of literacy.
Founded in 1997, CW4WA started off with a focus to fund education for the girls of Afghanistan who were being neglected and left out of schools under the rule of the Taliban.
“At the very beginning our focus was to fund education for girls and, of course, this had to be done all covertly and secretly. Our first main priority was just to educate girls. We found a partner to secretly siphon the money to and she was able to enable people all over the country to teach girls in secret,” recalled CW4WA President Madeliene Tarasick.
Eighteen years and a war later, the Ministry of Education under the new government of Afghanistan has opened several schools across the country, allowing the organization to expand their work into new fields.
CW4WA has two schools with close to 20 teachers, the House of Flowers Orphanage and an online library for educators. The organization believes strongly in hiring local Afghans.
The organization also supports a literacy program for the entire country entitled “Afghan Reads!” Since 2008, one of the major priorities for CW4WA has been teacher training. They train 1000 teachers a year.
“After years of no education and a destroyed state there’s a strong need to improve the pedagogy. Because very often there would be 16-year-old girls who were able to read and write but didn’t really have any other skills and they’d be teaching, many times, students not much younger than they were. We are assisting with the improving the levels of teaching quality,” explained Tarasick.
In 2013, Tarasick had the opportunity herself to visit Afghanistan.
“To actually be able to see the impact of our programs on people like the children, who still have fewer resources compared to their Canadian counterparts, so excited and grateful to be at school. It was exhilarating,” noted Tarasick.
Tarasick notes since the War in Afghanistan, it has become much easier to carry out the work of CW4WA.
“I witnessed with my own eyes the legacy of the role of the Canadian military and partners in bringing about safety and security in Afghanistan. Basically, we couldn’t do our work without the work of the military community,” said Tarasick.
Tarasick says that during the rule of the Taliban, besides the children being helped by CW4WA, close to three quarters of a million children were in school, all boys. Today there are nearly nine million children in school, and 40 per cent are girls.
Here at home, the organization also holds multiple fundraising and awareness events in various chapters across the country to engage with the public.
One of the major events for CW4WA is their annual symposium. The organization held their three-day symposium from Oct. 1 to 3 in Banff, AB. The symposium not only gives board and chapter members a chance to catch up and conduct an annual general meeting, it welcomes members of the public to listen to guest speakers some of which dial in from Afghanistan. This year 60 youth were also invited for a workshop and to learn more about the programs CW4WA offer.
Some of the notable guest speakers this year included Sally Armstrong and Raheel Raza, President of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.
Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan was founded by two women in Calgary, Janice Eisenhauer and Carolyn Reicher, who were appalled by the treatment of women under the Taliban and inspired by an expose written by journalist Sally Armstrong on the plight of the Afghan women. The two women soon were joined by Deb Ellis, who traveled to Afghanistan writing about the women. She authored two award-winning books The Breadwinner Trilogy, and My Name is Parvana. Ellis donated all the royalty from the books to CW4WA.
Today, the CW4WA has 14 chapters across the country with roughly 800 members.
All the board members and the executive director of CW4WA are volunteers with the exception of the program director.
There are two types of memberships for those individuals wishing to become involved with CW4WA. The basic membership requires a $15 membership fee and provides access to events and information to individuals. The second way is to become a chapter member if an individual is living in one of the cities with a chapter.
The CW4WA welcomes donations. The website details the level of contributions and what exactly each contribution will accomplish. A $30 donation buys notebooks, pencils and paper for a student for six months while a $750 donation pays a teacher’s salary for six months.
For more information or to join CW4WA visit their website.