Offering a chance of integration and education to Afghan women living in Hayes was what Khalida Obeid gambled on when setting up the Afghan Women’s Group and to this day it proves to be a success. *
Every Wednesday afternoon, between 15 and 20 Afghan women attend the group with their young children to take part in various courses. These range from English courses, to parenting or confidence building and mostly aim to improve their quality of life and integration into the community. Khalida Obeid, coordinator and interpreter for the Afghan Women’s Group said, “the purpose is empowering Afghan women, and helping them to integrate the community, build their confidence and self esteem and come out of isolation and depression and settle down to this country.”
It all started in 2004 along the HOPE (Health Opportunities Promotion & Education) Project designed to help Asylum seekers and Refugees of Hillingdon. At that stage, the group intended to support Afghan women seeking asylum, but Ms Obeid was very committed to bring improvements to their lives. Concerning her engagement, she said, “I know their pain, I know their culture and I know what is really going on in the Afghan community and the society because I am one of them.” It quickly became the Afghan Women’s Group: open to all Afghan Women of the area in the hope to make a change in their lives.
With this in mind, learning English was one of their first steps towards a better life. Khalida Obeid explained that in Afghanistan, her home country, women were rarely allowed access to education and as a result a lot of them are illiterate even in Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan’s native languages. Learning English benefits them greatly: it leads to a better integration into the community, but it also means that they become more independent.
Najiba, who moved to London in 2011 said, “I learn English because I want to be able to do everything by myself. I want to be an independent woman and not always depend on my husband.”
However, English is only one course among a great variety offered by the group. A parenting course was introduced since one of the mothers had a 15 year-old son involved in a gang. Sarah Goodall, who has been working at the group’s “crèche” (nursery) for 3 years, explained “The purpose of the group is firstly to demonstrate how to interact with their children, to help them to tackle routine, things like sleep, dummy, sweet, foods that aren’t right for them, things that are.
There are a lot of new things they learn here and a lot of things that they didn’t know. For example, one parent didn’t know she had to read books with her children. It’s just simple things like that, that we take for granted because when we grow up that’s what our parents do with us.”
Another main feature of the group is to empower these women and build their self-esteem. Ms. Goodall explained, “The second purpose of the group is to tell them they have rights and what they are entitled to”.
Most of them were unable to have a complete education and some could not pursue one at all, and it prevents them from obtaining some important things. For instance, the language barrier and the lack of education make it a struggle for them to attend college or get a degree. The group aims to give them confidence while developing their need to seek knowledge. Ms. Obeid said, “I have so many cases of women that went to college or that can now drive. Also for example, we saw a lady who was so passive last week and this week she was so assertive”.
Ms. Obeid tries her best to ensure that the women can get involved in the community. For that she invites professionals, and the group already welcomed a police’s representative and a social worker. They also got to experience life in their new country by travelling to the London Zoo and Hyde Park.
However, we must not forget that the group does not only benefit the women, their children also get a lot from it, both directly and indirectly. Firstly, Ms. Obeid explained, “the kids spend all the time with their mom and they don’t know how to be separated from them, so with the group they learn how to be even if their mom aren’t there.”
Ms. Goodall added, “we give them all a good start and prepare them, especially by coming here they are exposed to English so they are not going to be, kind of behind.”
It also helps these children through their mothers, because they adopt better parenting skills. Najiba explained, “The group helps me so after, I am able to help my daughter with homework and school”.
* The full name of some sources could not be given for security reason.