Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan



National Volunteer Week April 12-18, 2015

Volunteer Spotlight – Lorna Dodd

More than 800 dedicated and talented volunteers across Canada make it possible for CW4WAfghan to provide education, resources and more for hundreds of Afghan students and teachers each year.  Their indispensable contributions are as diverse and remarkable as they are!

“Each of our own stories as volunteer members of CW4WAfghan has built up this rich history, and collectively we make up this sparkling, wonderful energy and power that moves us forward in our shared goals of advancing education for Afghan women and girls”

Janice Eisenhauer, CW4WAfghan Executive Director

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, we are excited to launch a monthly Volunteer Spotlight to introduce you to the outstanding volunteer women and men who are the foundation of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

Meet Calgary Chapter volunteer Lorna Dodd!

Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I grew up in Manitoba and moved to Calgary seventeen years ago. I am the proud mother of two wonderful sons. I am passionate about my work in education. I enjoy learning, playing and being curious right along with the students. My hobbies are reading, gardening and hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

How and why did you first become involved with CW4WAfghan?

While reading the Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis with some students, I became very interested in the educational opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan. I found the Calgary Chapter of CW4WAfghan online, and along with a colleague of mine, I went to a monthly meeting. I stayed involved in small ways until an opportunity came up to take over the role of Products Coordinator.

Describe how the product sales/marketplace benefits CW4WAfghan. 

CW4WAfghan purchases beautiful hand made products directly from women, and organizations that hire women, for our marketplaces. We buy our products directly from the highly talented and skilled women of Afghanistan and that provides a market for their products. Earning a wage will help the women earn respect in the community by becoming breadwinners for their families.

The beautiful products we sell add to our events by bringing a wonderful sense of the culture and talent of the women we are supporting. CW4WAfghan volunteers take our marketplaces out into the community and that helps in our goal of outreach to Canadians.

What appeals to you about taking on this role? Do you have a favourite story? 

I like to be able to work with an organization where I can make a contribution. I enjoy keeping busy and this position allows me to do that. I can’t think of just one story. Every time I take the market to an event I meet the most amazing and inspiring women and men.

Many thanks to Lorna sharing her story and for this glimpse of the essential Products Coordinator role for CW4WAfghan!

The products sold by CW4WAfghan chapters are all purchased from Afghanistan. We buy handmade soaps from Arghand, which operates out of southern Afghanistan. Zahra lives in Kabul and provides us with beautiful jewellery. Our silk scarves come from PARSA, an amazing organization supporting the people of Afghanistan. We get bags, home accessories and lovely embroidered items from a company called Zardozi that employs many women. We also sell topical books by Canadian authors such as Deborah Ellis and Sally Armstrong.

Program Update: Darakht-e-Danesh: Afghanistan’s First Digital Educational Resource Collection in Afghan Business Magazine, Wadsam

Our DD Library program is in the news…in Afghanistan. Read more…

Teacher quote:  

“DDL is valuable for education in Afghanistan. Resources in the library help us a lot and we fully use them in our teaching in remote provinces such as Nimruz. I also use the library materials to solve other teachers problems when they come to me for help!”

M. Zahir Shirani,
Head of Science Department and
teacher at Nimruz Pedagogy Institute,
and student at American University (Master in Science).


Abdul Rahim Ahmad Parwani (seated far right), the Dari Content Manager of the Library, attends ROER4D Impact Studies Workshop last December in Penang, Malaysia to represent CW4WAfghan Darakht-e-Danesh Library  Project, now part of an international research consortium on open education resources.

Help Us Fly!

It’s time again to get ready for our annual MAY CAMPAIGN to collect donations of Aeroplan miles!  From May 1 to 31, please consider donating your spare Aeroplan miles toward our goal of 100,000 miles. If we reach our goal, another 15,000 miles will be donated by Aeroplan! Proceeds will be used for our travel costs for Banff 2015, including a flight from Afghanistan for our Country Director, Murwarid Ziayee, who is a featured guest speaker at the Symposium. Donate Today…THANK YOU!

Be Inspired…there is a transition underway

Article by Lauryn Oates, CW4WAfghan Programs Director

In March 2015, not long after International Women’s Day, and on the day marking Nawruz, the Afghan and Persian new year celebration and beginning of spring, a horrific event occurred in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. A young woman named Farkhunda was beaten and tortured by a mob of men, and then set alight, her charred body dumped on the banks of the Kabul River. This event took place in broad daylight, in the city centre, and at the hands of hundreds of men, including several policemen who stood by, failing to intervene. Dozens of people filmed the incident. Some later bragged on their social media pages that they had taken part. The woman, Farkhunda, had been accused of burning a Quran in a nearby mosque.

This event is unsurprisingly dominating all discussion of the status of women and girls in Afghanistan, both within Afghanistan and outside the country. Farkhunda’s murder is tragic and unforgiveable, but its silver lining is that it has ushered in a sudden, robust and much needed open dialogue on both violence against women, and on freedom of expression and the dangers of extremist thinking. Afghans – women and men alike – have demonstrated their grief and anger very publicly, beginning with Farkhunda’s funeral, where it was women who carried her coffin, breaking with the usual custom. From there, numerous vigils and protests have been held in Kabul, and then others took place all over the world: in Canada, the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria and Finland. The Afghan media is alight with discussion and debate after the incident, the Afghan Government is investigating and has so far arrested 13 individuals and charged several police officers. A mullah who initially expressed support for the killing faced so much criticism, he was compelled to reneg publicly. Even the Taliban have said they condemn the killing.

But if the Taliban were still in power, or if this crime had been committed a decade ago, the consequences would have been different. The active and dynamic Afghan media community, the penetration of social media among Afghans, the strength of the women’s movement, the changing views towards the rights of women and girls, and Afghanistan’s increasing interconnectedness with the outside world have created very different circumstances than a decade ago. No longer is there impunity for those who commit femicide. No longer are people afraid to criticize mullahs who profess backwards and hateful views. Injustices against women continue, but they are no longer in the shadows. There is scrutiny, dialogue and debate, and calls for justice that are growing louder and louder. A decade ago, Farkhunda’s fate would be unknown and her name forgotten. Now, Farkhunda’s name will never be forgotten. It is not her name that will be tarnished, but the names and faces of her killers, captured by those who share in the responsibility for her murder, the bystanders who casually filmed a horrific crime.

I watched the footage of what Farkhunda endured in the moments leading up to her death. My heart broke and I was awash in anger and sadness. Those feelings will stay with me. But I maintain my hope for the women of Afghanistan in watching the aftermath of this incident, the refusal of thousands of Afghans to accept this crime as the status quo, and their transformation of Farkhunda’s tragic death into a legacy. As demands for the rule of law, for the protection of women from violence, for accountability from the religious leaders are heard on the streets of Kabul, on Facebook pages, in the Afghan media, through art and protest, and in living rooms across Afghanistan, I know this country has changed.

There is a transition underway: it is slow, and often painful, but it won’t be reversed – I’m sure of it. Afghan women are silent no longer and nothing in the world – not threats from the Taliban, not indifference from the outside world, not even the brutal and public murder of a woman – will shove them back into the dark ages of institutionalized misogyny. And for that courage and determination, there is much to celebrate.

The Academy for Teacher Educators, Kabul, in the Seventies

by Nico van Oudenhoven[1]

The days that I had the privilege of living with my family in Afghanistan form, for sure, one of the best periods of my life.  I will skip the commonly-used phrases that extol the hospitality and the friendliness of the Afghans, their deep and rich culture or the immense beauty of the country. This is all very, very true and we enjoyed it to the full.

I worked for UNESCO and was stationed at the Academy for Teacher Education and was engaged in a post-graduate course for teacher educators during 1973-1977, just shortly after Daoud Khan had disposed of Zahir Shah and before the Russians moved in.  In retrospect, this time must have been, without doubt, the country’s ‘last ‘golden era’.  Policy makers felt confident that they could remain neutral in the rivalry between the World Powers[2]; it was safe to travel, with visitors always and everywhere being welcomed; women and young women could walk freely either with or without chaderis;  parents felt that sending their boys and girls to school was a good thing;  young men and women from the provinces were keen and encouraged to pursue higher education. The arts and music were undergoing a creative boost and massively enjoyed.  There was a fair understanding between the many ethnic and religious groups. Afghans were proud of their past.

Yes, the ‘human development indicators’ were dreadfully low, infant mortality- and under-five- mortality rates awfully high,  a newly-born baby was lucky if he was a boy,  and literacy levels the lowest in the region. But there was hope and a strong feeling of ‘we can do’ and ‘that ‘things would get better’.

My task was to teach three or four courses, the likes of developmental psychology, educational theory, test & measurement, and methodology. The annual course was accredited by an American university and one of the criteria was that a few lecturers should have PhDs. I think I was the only one at some point. I had come to Kabul with a ten-year experience of working at the Psychological Institute of Leiden University, Netherlands.
The teacher trainers, equal numbers of men and women, were experienced teachers in their late twenties or early thirties. Many came from teacher training colleges in the provinces and had never been to the capital. All were hard-working, curious, had an appetite for new ideas and, above all, a lot to tell. In the interaction with them, I learnt many, many lessons that informed all my later activities incalculably. What follows are only a few of them.

Lesson One:

I was teaching along happily, with Moquim, my counterpart, doing the consecutive translation. The ‘students’ appeared to enjoy it as they were open, laughed and talked, and I felt good. After some time, though, when I started to understand a bit of Farsi, I noticed that Moquim was not translating me at all, but talking about all sorts of other subjects, such as where to buy food, listen to music, who was doing what with whom and so on. When asked, he said: “well, we have been doing this for years, as nobody understands or is interested what you, foreign experts, are telling us.”  And the exams? “Oh, that’s easy, too, I just distribute evenly the questions and answers you dream up,  and for the ‘honours’, we organise a kind of lottery”.  We talked a bit more and then they asked me to be quiet for a while and let them do the talking, say what really bothered them,  express the questions, they wanted to pose and see answered. I think we came a long way, that way. Later on,  I learned the phrase for this process: ‘respectful listening’.[3]

Lesson Two:

Another assignment was to write texts for teachers to be transmitted by radio; visits to a few schools in rural areas quickly showed that nobody cared to listen: “too boring”, “utterly irrelevant”. Things changed dramatically when I started to tape and broadcast discussions among young teachers who were invited to talk about their problems, their struggles and obstacles and how they would overcome them.  The audience loved it. My role remained restricted to providing tea.

Lesson Three:

And there was another major lesson, among the countless other life-changing experiences. A common phrase in the international development community at the time was ‘starting from scratch’, and in Afghanistan it had almost become a mantra. Very curious, I thought, for a country that counted brilliant lights such as Al-Biruni, Abdul Majid Majdud Sana’I, Jalal ud-Din Rumi, Behzad and Ahmad Shah Durrani, just to name a few.  Right from the start, I was amazed about the many games children and adults played on the fields and in the streets. With the help of the teacher trainers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and many others, we started to collect these ‘common street games’, and before long the number surpassed the one thousand. With the help of the teachers we grouped them and analysed their educational value.  This resulted in a book ‘Afghan Common Street Games’[4] that, in truth, is an homage to Afghanistan, its people and its culture. It should be noted that these games, in addition to having great educational value, were enjoyable, culturally acceptable, cheap, and, importantly, capable of connecting old and young. This was not ‘starting from scratch’, but rather validating what was on offer.

Of the many talks I had with the teachers, two come back into my mind over and over again. With one teacher from a college in Balkh I was reading ‘Jonathan Livingstone Seagull’ by Richard Bach as he wished to improve his English. After we had finished the book he said: “I’m like Jonathan, I also have entered a higher plane of awareness”. Another was with a teacher, from a college in a place near Kunduz, where he was a significant landowner. When we evaluated the course, he sighed “Before I came here, I thought I lived like a prince; now I realised I lived like a pig”. An Afghan colleague had been married for a few years, but the couple had remained childless. He was proud that he had resisted his family’s pressure to take a second wife. I told him I admired him for that. One day his wife died; the day after he showed me pictures of a dozen of young women and asked my advice as to whom to choose. Did we, outsiders, ever truly grasp the intricacies of local culture and life, and did we have any inkling of what we were doing? I very much doubt it now.

Do we, outsiders, had any inkling what we were doing? I very much doubt it now.

And now the country is in ruins; its soul ravaged, so many have been killed and wounded, so many have left the country. So much has been destroyed and so much innocence and good will squashed, so much hatred sowed. It is a veritable miracle that again and again men and women, girls and boys, stand up and believe in each other and see still hope, even now
For me, I took away so much; much more than I gave, but I am forever grateful.  I often look at a little teapot that I found in Shar-e-Nau, Kabul. It has been carefully repaired 39 times over.

[1] Nico is connected with the Netherlands-based International Child Development Initiatives (; he is grateful to AKF Canada  for allowing him to share precious memories with their Newsletter’s audience.
[2] Although I have always felt that the former US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s doctrine, that sought to bring together the ‘Ajam’ countries Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, played a dark role in the region.  This idea that was actually being implemented and should have looked attractive to the ‘-stan’ countries in the region, and as such must have  been a threat to the Soviet Union, prodding it  to ‘take out’ the ostentatiously weakest link.  The  notion of mutual cooperation, in itself, should have been welcomed, of course.
[3] Gerry Pantin, the founder of SERVOL, an child-and-youth oriented NGO in Trinidad and Tobago coined this concept and applied it successfully with urban disadvantaged young people . See:  A Mole Cricket Called Servol: The Early Years of an Education and Community Development Project in the West Indies. The Hague: Bernard van Leer Foundation, 1983.
[4] Nico van Oudenhoven (1979), Common Afghan Street Games,  Lisse:  Swetz and Zeitlinger.