Lessons learned working in Afghanistan

At PARSA we have a new program being developed, PARSA Job Corps in response to the dire economic need of many of our community based Afghan Scouts- boys and girls.  When I mean “developed” I mean that I and our staff are learning everyday.  We have 40 youth learning how to start and run very small enterprises.  This month we are learning how to design and produce products for market and how the  “market” works.  What does that mean really?  Our kids decided that candles would be a great product.  None of us being experts on how to make candles, we all set out to learn from the internet and from a book.  We have been making candles now for about four weeks.  We have made candles with string for wicks.  Reese and his team made lumpy taper candles, and then he spent a couple of days trying to figure out how to market them as they are- “handmade” but decided they were just too ugly.  The girls made perfect candles in jars that would not light.  The boys trashed the kitchen with wax and made “wax on a jar” candles where there was more wax on the outside than the inside. Our logistic staff bought beautiful beeswax somewhere in the bazaar but neglected to get a supplier phone number so we are still hunting for quality beeswax. I watched myself and my staff through this process and the impulse to take over from the kids is overwhelming-watching them making mistakes over and over is excruciating.  Then we started noticing something happening with our youth.  As we melted down waxy mistake after mistake, and found solutions to problems they started to relax- especially the girls and they took over the process themselves.  In fact, they started coming up with better ideas than I could. I was so frustrated I moved the candle making to my kitchen, making a mess and insisting on having Yasin witness every change I made as I tested the candles.  Today, the girls came up with an innovation on getting the wicks centered that I never would have thought of.  As a trainer, one of the more difficult experiences I have with adult Afghan’s is how constrained they are around making mistakes and how upsetting it is to them.  Even today in the Afghan educational environment, kids are punished for their mistakes.  What I and my staff learned this month in working with the PARSA Job Corps, was that our job is not to teach them to be produce a perfect product but to give them an environment where they can learn to make mistakes, recover, come up with better solutions working toward their own standards.  This kind of learning environment is where critical thinking happens, entrepreneurship is born, and confidence is built.  So as we debrief from the candle making experience and move onto the next lesson- where to sell our products for best price…my staff and I realised that our job is to help our youth through the process of making mistakes, teaching them how to negotiate the disappointment and to persist toward success.  

Now for our next lesson, we have our “PARSA Job Corps” Bazaar coming up and there are going to be some weird, overpriced items for sale.  Please do not purchase them unless you genuinely want them.  We are counting on some disappointment from this bazaar, so they can learn about making products for a market and what prices the market will bear.  I  promise we will walk them through this and they will learn a positive lesson!

One Reply to “Lessons learned working in Afghanistan”

  1. Amin Aryobee

    PARSAR has been proven one of the most beneficial and successful organisation in Afghanistan.

    Wish you more successes

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