Helmand-born, university-bound

Afghanistan, November 10, 2011

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I was at the Mercy Corps Vocational Training Centre this morning checking in with the team and catching up with some of the students and teachers. The last few days have seen a number of storms, which is rare for Helmand, so everything is covered in mud and there is a cold breeze blowing through Lashkar Gah.

This is where my colleagues and I disagree about the weather. I like it hot and sunny, ideally up around 40-45 degrees, whereas they love the rain and think it is a real novelty to stand outside and get wet. Coming from Cornwall, South West England, I am not so enamored with this and am already eagerly anticipating the spring.

Here in Helmand, we train over 2,000 students per day who sign up for three-to-six month courses in a wide range of skills. We teach tailoring, sign-writing, metalwork, IT, English, basic nursing, and even TV repair. Our students come from all over Helmand — including many from the most violent parts, and those areas most affected by the conflict. We have students as young as 15 as well as more seasoned trainees, as well as a mix of tribes and backgrounds.

One of the courses that we run is a pre-university intensive coaching course. Last year, Helmand sent five people to university, out of a possible 4,000. As we were designing this program, we decided this was something we could change.

As I walked into the classroom, I noticed that instead of the usual 30 or so students, there were only six. It so happens that 20 have already accepted university places, despite only being halfway through the course — so we are delighted with that result.

We are preparing for a survey of our recent graduates to see what they are doing now, one month after graduation, but we are already hearing that of the 1,000 graduates, 50 percent have found work or started a business. This is great to hear and is a testament to the motivation and innovation of Helmandi youth. It’s a great privilege to be involved with this program, and I am very excited about the future!