By Lensay Abadula
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Through distance learning with U.S. volunteers, Afghan women are learning writing skills and filling a blog with their thoughts about love, politics and family. Some don't tell their families, fearing disapproval.
In 2004 Hamilton traveled to Afghanistan, where she interviewed girls and women in a variety of situations. She met with women in prisons in Kabul and Kandahar, matriarchs of opium-growing families and child brides.
During her trip back to Afghanistan in November 2008, Hamilton got the idea for creating the writing program.
Hamilton used the help of partners on the ground, such as the Kabul-based School of Leadership, Afghanistan, to recruit women for the project. She avoided advertising the free classes for fear of overwhelming demand. She personally recruited volunteer teachers.
"Some of these women are writing as a way of declaring their lives," Hamilton said. "I truly believe, and I've believed this since I was a journalist, that often times being seen is as important to survival as food and shelter. And some of these women feel unseen."
The biggest obstacle for the students in the program, Hamilton said, is gaining Internet access.
"I live in a province that does not have electricity, this is an obstacle to work online," Seeta said. "We do not have access to Internet in Farah province, insecurity is the biggest problem for me."
Some students get online through their work or school. Others must travel to Internet cafes, where, even when accompanied by a male relative, they attract unwanted attention.
To combat these difficulties, the Afghan Women's Writing Project hopes to one day establish Afghanistan's first all-women Internet cafe.
The project has begun providing jump drives--small devices that allow computer users to transfer documents among computers--and laptops so that students can write at home and have male relatives take the jump drives to Internet cafes to e-mail their work. But the program has not yet been able to provide this to every student.
Some students can't rely on help from family members because they are participating in the program without their knowledge, fearing that relatives might not approve. Writing in the program can be a safety risk for some women.
"Most people do not like me to write about their actions so if they find out, it is clear that it can put me in danger," Seeta said.
Lensay Abadula is a freelance writer living in New York.
Afghan Women's Writing Project:
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