First Lady Laura Bush visited the EDC-operated Women’s Teacher Training Institute in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. Accompanied by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Mrs. Bush was traveling with a delegation of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, which aims to strengthen partnerships between the two nations, especially to promote education for women. While at the Institute, Mrs. Bush participated in a roundtable discussion with students and teachers.
“Mrs. Bush commented upon how being a teacher and librarian herself she understood how precious the gift of literacy is and how important the role of each woman in that room was in the process of delivering literacy to the rest of their villages,” said Richard Williamson, EDC Chief of Party. During the 1½ hour visit, Mrs. Bush met with a group of teachers from Parwan province, who had come to the Women’s Teacher Training Institute to begin training as Village Literacy Teachers. Afterwards, students and teachers joined Mrs. Bush at a wide-ranging roundtable discussion about the importance of literacy instruction for Afghanistan.
The teacher institute is part of the Afghanistan Literacy and Community Empowerment Program (LCEP), which has been managed by EDC in partnership with UN-Habitat since 2004 with funding from USAID. LCEP is an integrated community development initiative that focuses on literacy, building capacity for income generation, and local governance. LCEP provides rural Afghan communities with tools and processes to solve their own problems, develop effective institutions for local governance, and increase economic productivity. The program makes a special effort to ensure that village women have the opportunity to fully participate in its activities. The different components of LCEP (literacy, governance, and economic empowerment) are designed as a set of mutually reinforcing learning activities.
Williamson said that the roundtable discussion covered curriculum content, the role of the trainers, and the village community members’ hopes and expectations about literacy and education and how they think it will change their lives.
Williamson summarized a few key topics:
- After more than 20 years of war children who grew up during those times are now in their twenties and can’t recognize the letters of the alphabet.
- Literacy was basic to improving their lives in very practical and simple ways such as enabling mothers to read expiration dates on medicine bottles, helping a tailor read a measuring tape so they can fit a client for a new suit of clothing, and assisting farmers with reading application instructions on chemical packaging.
- The LCEP approach is different because it moves beyond phonetics into applying materials that present a whole word/picture scenario where the learner is actively represented and involved in the learning process.
- The LCEP program is a valuable initiative because it is responds to a “homegrown” desire to receive literacy, it provides a solution for youth and adults who haven’t had a chance to go to school to learn with out the stigma attached to being 16 or 18 years old and having to sit in a grade 3 classroom among 9- and 10- year-olds.
At the conclusion of the round table, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, Mrs. Bush thanked everyone for their effort and reasserted the commitment of the American people to supporting Afghans in the field of literacy and higher education, said Williamson.
Over an initial two year period LCEP will work in 200 communities in five targeted provinces. During this time implementing partners will develop and refine the basic program model, and develop a plan for its sustainability, replicability, and expansion.
In the area of literacy, LCEP offers a basic functional literacy program for community members, ages 10-25, and supports the literacy learning needs of community members engaged in LCEP’s governance and economic empowerment activities. LCEP provides training to build the capacity of newly organized Afghan Community Development Councils (CDCs). In the area of economic development, LCEP helps community members learn how to organize local savings banks and micro-enterprise activities.
LCEP establishes and maintains a national Literacy Learning Center in Kabul. The Learning center plays a key role in the development of the program’s training materials and tools. It recruits and trains a cadre of Lead Trainers, who in turn train and supervise project activities using the “Integrated Learning for Development” approach.
The program will document and measure its impact on the quality of life for individuals and the development of institutional capacity in participating villages. LCEP will help advance the state of the art of monitoring and evaluation of rural community development projects. It also will provide a learning framework for Afghan professionals interested in the identification of best practice and lessons learned from development work in their country. While in Afghanistan, Mrs. Bush also met with President Hamid Karzai and had dinner with U.S. forces at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.
“Democracy is more than just elections. The survival of a free society ultimately depends on the participation of all of its citizens, both men and women,” said Mrs. Bush, a former school teacher and librarian, in an ABC News report.
Originally published on March 1, 2005