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Hope for a better life for Afghan refugees in Iran

Source: UNICEF

Afghan refugees in Iran face many challenges. For young people, these challenges are especially grave because, as refugees, they are often excluded from education, have little access to social and medical services and have no legal right to work. Those that do manage to find work face harsh and unstable conditions and earn very low wages.

Thanks to a UNICEF-supported initiative, however, approximately 25 girls from refugee families are being offered a chance to learn a trade, gain valuable life skills and hope for a better future.

The girls, aged 13 to 18, pile into a room in southern Tehran three days a week and learn to cut cloth, stitch and iron. The vocational training is offered by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children (SPRC), an Iranian NGO created by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Prior to attending the training centre, many of these girls worked selling chewing gum or flowers on the street. With this new opportunity, they are learning a marketable trade as well as developing literacy and life skills. Training for the first group of girls began in December 2004 and several of them are now proficient enough to take private orders from their homes to supplement their family's income.

Farideh Jalali, who manages the training centre, says she has seen the confidence of the girls grow along with their technical skills. "You can really see the difference in the girls after they have started acquiring new skills, says Ms. Jalali. "They become so proud of what they make and are really enthusiastic to show the results."

Inside their notebooks are signs that the experience has also given the girls the chance to be creative and to dream. Along with the heart-shaped doodles characteristic of many teenage girls, the pages are filled with sketches of hip-hugging trousers, revealing mini-skirts and sassy capri pants, designs that in reality might never see the light of day due to the Islamic dress code enforced in Iran.

For Ms. Jalali, the next challenge is to get the girls tested and certified by the Government so they can apply for jobs. After that, a new group of girls will begin training.

"My future is important to me."

In addition to supporting this centre, UNICEF assists SPRC in running a school for approximately 150 Afghan boys and girls, who either lack birth certificates or cannot afford the tuition fees needed to enter Iranian schools.

Classes at the school, located in a neat and spacious compound in the southern Tehran neighbourhood of Naser Khosro, run throughout the year and offer the standard subjects found in ordinary schools. There are 30 teachers, of which three are paid a salary and the rest are voluntary.

"I come to this school because my future is important to me. Coming here makes me feel good as I am in charge of my future - I'm building a future for myself," said 16-year-old Habib Rezaei. "I want to be successful. I also want to see success for my country. My country [Afghanistan] needs educated people to help build it. I will go back to Afghanistan one day and I want to go back educated."

Outside of the regular school term, a summer school offers extra-curricular activities such as English language, computer training, first aid, music and sewing. The school also holds training for teachers on subjects such as the detection of child abuse.

"Going to school gives the children a real sense of self worth," said Ramita Navai, a voluntary English teacher. The students experience achievement in school, said Ms. Navai, something which many of them are denied in their lives. "With each class you can see their confidence grow. They are eager and studious and even after the bell goes at the end of class, they would rather stay and study. They are a joy to teach."

"This school is very important to me," said Abedeh Salehi, another student. "It's the only school that will accept us. I feel so calm and happy when I'm here... Without this school, we would have nowhere to study. And education is so important."

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been helping the Iranian Government repatriate some of the two million refugees that settled in Iran over the last 25 years. Under the tripartite agreement signed between Afghanistan, Iran and UNHCR, those refugees that wanted to return home were given help and transportation. Since 2002, more than one and a quarter million Afghans have returned home - there are now around 780,000 left. But many refugees have complained of coming under psychological and economic pressures to return home, going against the voluntary nature of the scheme.

UNICEF believes that all children have a right to a quality education, regardless of their nationality, religion or ethnic group.

... Payvand News - 10/18/05 ... --

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