The Social Support for Vulnerable Afghan Refugees and Host Communities project develops low-threshold psychosocial support services. In doing so, it promotes social cohesion between the individual groups in the communities. There is a particular focus on women and adolescent girls and boys. GIZ has been commissioned to carry out this work by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The Chief Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provides support as a local partner.
Building a sense of community
Pakistani households have been living next to Afghan refugee families in the north of Pakistan for decades, without either side mixing with the other. By providing safe spaces to meet, for women in particular, GIZ is bringing both sets of neighbours together.
But despite the oppressive heat, the women seem barely to notice any of this. They are focused on cables, circuit boards and small rubber tyres, handing each other screwdrivers and soldering irons, and busily discussing where they would like to attach the batteries that will drive the models they are assembling as part of their technology course. These little cars represent a bit of independence and greater self-confidence. And that is precisely what these women want for themselves – and their daughters.
Safe spaces for meeting
Here in this stuffy container, women from Afghanistan and Pakistan have found a safe space. The simple car they are working on together is quite literally a vehicle: the participants practice using tools in robotics courses, giving them the skills to repair small electronic items such as headphones and watches at home. This teaches them to have a bit of confidence in themselves. Even more importantly, they get to know one another.
Since 2019, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been providing this form of support to Afghan refugees and members of their host communities. As a general rule, both sets of participants are equally represented in these courses, with half coming from Pakistan and the other half from Afghanistan.
GIZ has provided training on psychosocial support in the communities to almost 1,400 people to date, a good half of these women. The topics covered are varied and include conflict resolution, stress management, dealing with aggression and non-violent communication. GIZ has raised awareness of mental health, gender-based violence and menstrual health in more than 1,000 events, thereby reaching around 15,600 people, some 80 per cent of them women.
Heidi Herrmann manages the project at GIZ. She firmly believes that bringing people together is the key: ‘True friendships have been formed through this. The women visit each other and invite each other over.’ GIZ is creating safe spaces in which community members can meet and exchange views. ‘Women learn through role play to support each other using simple methods,’ says Herrmann.
Wall makeover courtesy of art students
GIZ has set up five such meeting places in the north of Pakistan, including this one in the district of Nowshera. Although people of all genders are welcome to use it, the separate area in which the construction cabin is sited is reserved for female participants. Three students, Husna, Omama and Ammarah, have painted the cabin walls.
The young women from Pakistan worked together with Afghan women to design the motifs, including one of a veiled woman. ‘They’ve left their homeland behind, but not their culture,’ Ammarah explains. She and her friends are dressed in modern clothing; skinny jeans can be seen below the kameez, the traditional Pakistani tunic. The image of the veiled Afghan woman expresses pride: ‘Women are strong.’