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Master Trainers

Afghanistan, July 11, 2002

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    Working to educate refugees on health, sanitation and hygiene. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

On the inhospitable border, nicknamed "No Man's Land", between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a husband and wife team is working to improve the lives of Afghan refugee families flowing to and from Pakistan. Parveen and Syed Safdar are Master Trainers for Mercy Corps.

Currently, they are educating refugees on health, sanitation and hygiene. Teaching two courses each day, in the hot tents that serve as classrooms, together they train over 50 refugees daily. Although they work closely in developing courses and training materials, they separate when the classes begin. As is prescribed by cultural norms here, Parveen instructs the women and children and Syed instructs the men. In Parveen's tent there are two perpetual students who never miss a class: her two-and-half year old son, and her three-month old daughter.

Husband and wife working teams are becoming common in the region, as women are starting to join the workforce in greater numbers. In some traditional families, women do not work outside the home unless accompanied by a mehram, a male, immediate-family member such as a brother, father, husband or son.

Both formally trained pharmacists from Kabul University, the couple has worked for Mercy Corps for several years. Parveen started with Mercy Corps in 1998 and has worked extensively in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2001 Syed joined Mercy Corps and began teaching with his wife in Afghanistan. In September they were on holiday in Quetta when the war started and they could not return home. Instead they took Master Training positions at Killo Faizo refugee camp, on the Afghan border.

Parveen and Syed plan to work together for the long-term. They hope to eventually work as a team in a pharmacy at a small clinic where they can further put their education to work. But for now, they are happy with their positions at Mercy Corps. After a long day of teaching Parveen pauses to comment: "The rewarding part of working for Mercy Corps is when people come to us and then return again later. We can really see the changes in their behavior. We know we are making progress, one family at a time."