Mansehra: When 27 year-old Saadia, an Afghan refugee living in a camp near Mansehra, lost her husband to a heart attack she also lost her sole source of income. She could no longer provide for her four young children. Facing desperation, Saadia reluctantly pulled her children out of school and began collecting garbage to scrape together a living.
Reflecting on this decision, Saadia says, “Like other mothers, it was always my dream to educate my children. However, when I lost my husband I had no other choice than to pull them out of school. My heart was broken.”
Saadia later learned about a skills development training centre in Mansehra. The centre is funded by the U.S. government through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the Department of State. It helps poor refugees from Afghanistan develop practical skills to find meaningful jobs. Saadia signed up for a three-month tailoring course. She recalls, “The training was very useful. I was so poor that I could never have afforded the costs, but the U.S. government provided for free all of the training materials, money for meals, tool kits, and the certificate proving that I completed the program as a professional tailor.”
Saadia now works as a tailor in the refugee camp and earns her own income. “Women from the camp come to me for stitching and I earn enough money to take care of my children,” she says. All four of her children now attend school.
Saadia’s story is not unique. Many refugees have found a safe place to live in Pakistan over the past 30 years. However, few have had the opportunity to develop the skills they need to earn enough money to take care of their families. The United States is funding several programs that help Afghan refugees sustain themselves and their families while in Pakistan, and upon their return to Afghanistan.
“It is important that Afghans develop skills that allow them to earn money for their families and educate their children,” said Simone Jackson, Refugee Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. “The U.S. government offers a variety of training programs that help refugees become self-sufficient during their stay in Pakistan, and continue to support them when they return to Afghanistan.”
In 2012, the U.S. government provided over $2.5 million dollars to 17 skills training centers in different refugee areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Participants learn practical skills that help them provide for their families by becoming car mechanics, beauticians, information technology specialists, embroiderers, and tailors.
Support for refugees is one of many U.S.-funded humanitarian programs in Pakistan. Since October 2009, the United States has distributed $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid in Pakistan to help Pakistani families suffering from floods, drought, earthquakes, and other crises. The United States has also funded an additional $220 million for programs that assist Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and upon their return to Afghanistan.