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Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Hunger is skyrocketing in Afghanistan and children are suffering. Many families make hard decisions to sell their daughters into forced marriage as early as 6 years old. This practice has skyrocketed since schools were closed with no prospect of daughters bringing in money and helping support their families any other way. (Source: Washington Post In the new Afghanistan, it’s sell your daughter or starve)

Across Afghanistan, child marriages have skyrocketed, and not only because of economic collapse. Families once hoped that their daughters, when educated, might find good work and contribute to the family income. Today, under the Taliban’s ever-increasing restrictions, school is prohibited for girls after the sixth grade, and work options for women are few. Sequestered at home, a girl becomes just another mouth to feed. But as a bride, she’s a valuable commodity. A $2,000 bride price is enough to feed a family for a year. For the girls, of course, this is a nightmare. 

Stephanie Sinclair, Founder – Too Young to Wed

A child bride is sold for around $2,000. They are subjected to abuses most of us dare not imagine. And it is preventable.

Girls and women who participate in underground schools come away with the skills and determination to start home businesses, freelance, and teach their own schools, bringing income without being sold. These programs are a gateway to freedom for so many.

In December, CNN reported that suicides and depression are rising in Afghanistan among girls and women. Women’s Empowerment courses in Sahar programs tackle the stigma and hardship of depression and give girls support and hope where many are without.

Experts say reliable statistics on suicide and suicide attempts aren’t compiled in Afghanistan, but rights groups and doctors say they’ve seen an increase under Taliban rule.

Dr. Shikib Ahmadi has been working six days a week and longer hours than ever, seeing patients at a mental health clinic in Afghanistan’s western Herat province. He’s using a pseudonym because he fears the Taliban will punish him for speaking to foreign media.

Ahmadi said the number of female patients at his clinic has surged 40% to 50% since the Taliban’s takeover two years ago. Around 10% of those patients kill themselves, he said.

Oppressed by the Taliban, she swallowed acid. Now her siblings are trying to save her life, CNN

Early marriage prevention has long been a topic of Sahar programs and we continue to tackle this sensitive topic in our underground courses, including the Men as Partners in Change program. Educating men and women on the dangers of early marriage is an important step in prevention.

In many countries, marriage before the age of 18 is a reality for girls due to the interaction of several factors that place a girl at risk, including poverty, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, and limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement. It also often involves a substantial age difference between the girl and her partner, thus further disempowering her and putting her at greater risk of partner violence, sexually transmitted diseases and lack of agency.

The Afghanistan MICS 2022-23

Forced and child marriage is human trafficking and it’s becoming more common in Afghanistan due, in part, to strict bans on secondary education and restrictions on employment for women and girls. Underground schools give an avenue to these families, a route to take that doesn’t involve selling their daughters to the highest bidder.

This January, take a stand against human trafficking.

Sponsor a girl in underground schools or sponsor a woman who wants to support her family, we can’t change lives without you.

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2023 Impact Report

“In the wake of unprecedented challenges and transformative shifts in Afghanistan’s socio-political landscape, Sahar Education emerges as a beacon of hope and resilience. As we navigate the complexities of a post-2021 era marked by the Taliban’s takeover, Sahar Education steadfastly continues its mission to empower women and girls through education.

This Impact Report for 2023 unveils the organization’s unwavering commitment to providing underground education, demonstrating the indomitable spirit that has defined Sahar’s journey since its inception in 2009.

Before the Taliban’s resurgence, Sahar Education was at the forefront of positive change in Afghanistan. From constructing schools for girls to operating teacher training centers and offering women’s empowerment classes, the organization played a pivotal role in shaping a brighter future for Afghan women and girls. The abrupt shift in the country’s dynamics necessitated a strategic pivot, leading Sahar to adapt its approach while staying true to its core values.”

Read more in the full report!

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Sahar Education Featured in The Seattle Times

Seattle group launches secret schools for Afghan girls under Taliban rule by Nina Shapiro shared our story with the Greater Seattle area and the world on December 25th, 2023.

When the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan in 2021, Seattle-based Sahar found its mission completely undermined.

For almost 20 years, the nonprofit had worked to educate Afghan girls, denied education under the first Taliban regime in the 1990s. Sahar repaired schools and built new ones, which it turned over to Afghanistan’s education ministry to run.

The organization’s showcase was a school for 3,000 girls in northern Afghanistan, designed by the prestigious Seattle firm Miller Hull in collaboration with the University of Washington’s architecture department. The nonprofit had also broken ground on what was to be the country’s first public boarding school, also designed by Miller Hull and intended for rural girls who had to walk miles to school — risking kidnapping and attacks as Taliban traditionalists waged their insurgency.

Then, the insurgents took power.

Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times

Read the full article on the Seattle Times website.

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40 Women Enroll in Threads of Hope

This successful program has been restarted!

Threads of Hope is a literacy and sewing project designed for underprivileged and economically disadvantaged girls and women aged 18-40 who have not had the opportunity to get a formal education. The program provides participants with free-of-cost literacy, and sewing skills classes. Additionally, graduates are gifted their sewing machine upon completion of the course.

Our partner is integrating Sahar Education’s Women’s Empowerment and Health Workshops in the literacy class to educate participants about important topics such as mental health, early marriage prevention, and planned parenthood, and support them in their journey of self-empowerment.  

Besides learning how to read and write, the program aims to provide participants with the opportunity to gain skills that will lead them to become financially independent. Additionally, the program provides women with a safe space to come together and form a sense of community and belonging.

The first round of this program in Kabul, Afghanistan has 40 women enrolled and began in November 2023.

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Round 3 of Stealth Sisters Underway

Round Two Wrapped Up October 2023

In October, 20 girls graduated from the second round of the Stealth Sisters program. These girls celebrated their commencement like any other graduates- albeit in secret. The girls in this program are part of the 2.5 million girls forcibly barred from attending school by the Taliban. However, they have not let the situation in Afghanistan deter them. Thanks to your support, these girls learned English, computer skills, and women’s empowerment curricula. As they graduated, they had different plans for their futures but none of these 20 students would let their talents go to waste.

Some will start their home-based schools educating girls in their community about their rights, women’s health topics, mental health, the effects of child marriage, and more important topics. Others will start jobs working in medical offices or teaching online. A number of them will even use their newfound computer skills to apply for programs taking them outside Afghanistan for the first time. Although the Taliban has endeavored to squash the hope out of every girl and woman in the country, these 20 girls have found something worth fighting for.

Round Three Began November 2023

And, in November a new 20 students enrolled in the third round of the Stealth Sisters program. These students entered this underground school to make a difference in their own lives and their communities. Each of these girls is a rebel, fighting to learn and to dream whilst the Taliban works to keep all women locked in the darkness of oppression. 

Want to sponsor a Stealth Sister?

Now through January 1st, every donation to the Stealth Sisters Program qualifies for 50% matching! Sponsor a girl for only $165 thanks to matching! Every dollar counts!

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6th Grade Graduation Brings Turmoil to Afghan Girls

As another year comes to a close under Taliban rule in Afghanistan girls are losing hope for the future they were promised. Radio Free Europe reported on the dire situation on December 8th, 2023:

‘Hundreds of thousands of sixth-grade girls in Afghanistan attended the last day of the school year, many with tears in their eyes as they face an uncertain future because of Taliban policies that forbid them from further schooling and restrict their basic human rights.’

Imagine graduating 6th grade only to face the brutal reality of forced marriage, domestic servitude, or extreme poverty. This is the reality for those girls. Without continued education they will not be eligible for the few jobs open to women and their families will face hard decisions.

Under the current regime, the people are facing appalling conditions with little help from the defacto government or the international community leading to record dissatisfaction by the Afghan public. 

‘The Taliban’s policies are deeply unpopular among most Afghans. Even though dissent is often met with a harsh response by authorities, some people are still willing to criticize the government because the policies are seen as destructive.

In the Muslim nation of some 40 million people, activists and rights advocates accuse the Taliban of implementing “gender apartheid” by denying women education, work, freedom of movement, and deciding how they can appear in public.’

Furthermore, although girls’ education and the freedoms of women have been severely stilted there have also been damaging changes made to the education system affecting boys. 

A report titled Schools Are Failing Boys Too, from Human Rights Watch, is quoted in the article as saying 

‘curriculum changes, the firing of female teachers, corporal punishment, and other practices risk their education over the longer term as well.

Sahar Fetrat, a women’s rights researcher at HRW and the author of the report says the Taliban has caused “irreversible damage” to the education of both Afghan boys and girls.

“By harming the whole school system in the country, they risk creating a lost generation deprived of a quality education,” she said.’

With the fate of 40 million people hanging in the balance, we can only hope the international community will step up to pressure the Taliban into reversing these abhorrent policies. In the meantime, secret schools are among the few avenues open to girls who have aged out of the education system. 

Sahar offers underground programs to girls and women who are excluded from school in Afghanistan. In our programs, girls learn English, computer skills, coding, women’s health and mental health topics, tailoring, literacy, and women’s empowerment skills. 

We also offer a program for boys and young men that focuses on how men can support women in their fight for equality, how families are more functional with a partnership between the parents, how domestic violence and early marriage are wrong, and more important topics that we need the youth of Afghanistan to learn if we expect anyone ever to stand up and stop this oppressive regime. 

A graduate of the second 2023 Stealth Sisters program shares her thoughts

In October, 20 more girls graduated from the second round of our Stealth Sisters program. Even more girls are learning through our Underground TechSheroes program, also in its second round. And, the first rounds of our adapted Men as Partners in Change and Threads of Hope programs are underway as the year comes to a close.

Want to learn more about our programs? Watch our most recent round table on YouTube!

Want to support our programs? Bid on Auction items until December 15th or donate with 50% matching today through Global Giving!

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