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[World News] Afghanistan’s First Female-Only Space

Posted November. 18, 2005 08:26,   


The opening ceremony of the Afghan Center of Female Education and Culture was held amid tight security in Karte Char, a downtown Kabul neighborhood, on November 8. Security was provided by machine gun- toting multinational troops, local armed forces and police equipped with armored cars.

The two-story building, established on a 1,016m² site, is equipped with a movie theater, computer classrooms, a library, lecture rooms, seminar rooms, a cafeteria, and a resting place. It is the first female-exclusive space in Afghanistan.

Ceremony participants, including Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs Massouda Jalal and Okuda Norihiro, the Japanese ambassador to Afghanistan, closed their eyes gently, seemingly touched by the event. Some women were holding back their tears.

“Given that a primary and secondary school for girls that opened at the end of last year was set fire by local residents, it is a shock that foreigners have dared to openly set up a female-only facility in the center of Kabul,” said a Russian Novosti news agency correspondent. Some foreign media outlets reported, “Young Koreans have raised a ‘revolution’ in Afghanistan despite threats from the remnants of the Taliban.”

“Korean youngsters have made a diplomatic achievement that has never been done by any diplomatic missions from any country,” said Japanese Ambassador Okuda, who even declined Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s invitation to an official occasion and stayed at the ceremony throughout the morning. “As a Japanese, I honestly envy those young Koreans.”

Five “Korean angels” have been working hard, fighting against sandy winds-

The opening of the center is an accomplishment made after more than three years of work by Good Neighbors International (president: Lee Il-ha), an international non-governmental organization based in Korea. Backed by the organization, five young Koreans started out to help Afghan women lead a “humane life.”

These young Koreans are Good Neighbors International (GNI)’s country director Lee Byung-hee (32) of the GNI Kabul branch office, program coordinator Oh Eun-ju (30, female), program coordinator Hong Jung-pyo (29) and volunteers Yoo Kyung-min (24, a Kangnam University student) and Kim Hyun-jung (22, a Hoseo University student). All of them are unmarried.

Lee and Oh have been in Afghanistan for about three years, and the others have been there for two to three months.

Lee and Oh sought to persuade Afghan government officials for permission to open the facility for two years before managing to obtain a building site from the country’s Ministry of Education. By appealing to humanitarianism, they successfully got financial support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the Japanese Embassy to Afghanistan, and Finland.

They supplied blackboards and used computers from Korea; All five of them helped construction workers wipe the floor and drive nails.

In Afghanistan, electricity is supplied for only two to three hours a day, and water supplies are insufficient, so they had no choice but to take infrequent showers. Due to a lack of public security there, they have to go to market once a month, accompanied by a local resident. Such inconveniences, however, have become part of their daily lives.

“This is not such a big deal, given that now we are giving hope to Afghan women who have not been treated like human beings for thousands of years. Our next project is renovating the operation of the Yevsinia Hospital, which is the largest in Afghanistan,” said one Korean aid worker.

Not losing their big smiles, even amid sandy winds, the youngsters looked well.

Byung-Hee Ban bbhe424@donga.com