National

Kyoto-based NICCO refuses to forget about women of Afghanistan

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

In Afghanistan, where social norms prohibit women from appearing in public and their rights are limited, the Taliban’s repressive regime and years of war have heavily damaged the country’s heritage and society.

To support the country, Japan and 21 other nations have engaged in a worldwide campaign focused on continuous assistance. The campaign’s motto: “Do not forget Afghanistan.”

The Kyoto-based organization Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) is among the groups working to help people in Afghanistan improve their lives as well as co-organizing events related to the campaign.

NICCO has branches in neighboring Iran, two each in Tehran and Mashhad, a city located near the border with Afghanistan — an area that most international organizations have left amid rising security risks.

“If we don’t help them they will remain forgotten,” said Norimasa Orii, secretary-general of NICCO and manager of the group’s Tokyo office, adding that the group has been helping Afghans for more than 10 years.

Since 2008, the group has been organizing reading and writing courses for women, but it’s often inundated with applications. The group now also offers information-technology and English classes as well as other vocational training.

With the aim of supporting women and giving them an opportunity for education, NICCO used ¥96,928 from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund in the last year to finance its literacy and other education programs.

Since January, the group has taught courses in Afghanistan’s Herat and Ghor provinces.

Especially in Ghor province, where the literacy rate among females is among the lowest in the country, women have limited access to education and little financial independence.

NICCO accepts applicants from 20 villages in the province. “But many people cannot attend such classes because it could cut into their daily wages,” Orii said. “So we try to help them acquire skills that will enable them to make a living on their own.”

Orii said the group has been helping locals in plant cultivation, and that growing saffron bulbs, which produce the world’s most expensive spice, may help them escape poverty.

“Next year we are planning to host workshops where locals will be able to learn how to make jam” using local fruit, so they can sell it as a local specialty, Orii added.

The group also organizes sewing and traditional embroidery courses for women, giving them a chance to use their skills to begin earning even a small amount of money.

NICCO also provides assistance to Afghans who have fled across the border to Iran, where many await a chance to return to their homeland while dealing with discrimination and other hardships.

At seminars organized by the group, refugees can learn about what is happening in Afghanistan, receive information about finding employment and get other help in returning home.

Orii said now that Ashraf Ghani has been elected president, many Afghans are optimistic about the future and think the country is heading in the right direction.

NICCO was founded in 1979 to raise funds for Cambodian refugees. The group changed its name to Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development in 1993 and has broadened its activities, but its fundamental goal remains to free people from poverty and conflict.

“As many areas in Afghanistan are now seeing development,” we can expect livelihoods to improve and a chance to reduce poverty, Orii said.

“As an organization representing a foreign country, we are aware that someday we will have to leave Afghanistan and no longer provide aid. That’s why we are trying to foster locals who will continue our efforts.”

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