Skills training builds futures for refugees and Pakistanis alike

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In Quetta, Pakistan, Nida and her fellow trainees are gaining vocational skills, equipping them to take advantage of new livelihoods opportunities. For Nida, a chance to take a beautician’s course is making a difference in her life and giving her the means to be financially independent.

She is one of a number of Pakistani host community women who have joined vocational and skills training courses under a UNHCR-supported programme run at the Women’s Technical Training Centre (WTTC) in Quetta, Pakistan. The courses are run jointly for refugee as well as local community women.

Nida joined the beautician course at the Training Centre because of family circumstances. She recently experienced a sudden change in her life when her husband passed away due to illness. This left her with the full responsibility for the care of two children.

“It was very hard for me. I needed to move back home to my father’s house in Quetta with my two daughters,” she recalls.

While adjusting to a new situation, she began thinking about how she could gain financial independence to ensure a brighter future for herself and her children. She decided she needed to develop a new set of skills, so she looked into training opportunities in Quetta.

She found a list of courses was available through a project supported by UNHCR and one of its partners, The Big Heart Foundation. On the list of available training, she saw a beautician course and felt that it was the right one for her.

“I chose it because I thought I would be good at it. I know how important it is for women’s confidence to feel good about their appearance. And beauty parlours are also places for women to meet and talk. I felt that would be a place I could comfortably work in,” says Nida. Last month, she completed the six-month course and obtained her certificate.

Nida’s course and many more like it started as part of a livelihoods initiative in 2017 between UNHCR and Pakistan’s National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC), a government training institution.

The initiative is supported by UNHCR and the international community in recognition of the generous commitment of local communities in Pakistan to host refugees, and as a means to promote peaceful coexistence. Pakistan is home to 1.4 million Afghan refugees today and has supported millions of others over more than 40 years.

Last year, when Nida was admitted into the beautician training course, she was among an intake of 7,100 trainees in 2020 who took part in UNHCR-supported courses offered across Pakistan. Out of these trainees, more than half were from Pakistani host communities.

The UNHCR Representative in Pakistan, Noriko Yoshida, said that UNHCR is offering skills, training and other opportunities to help refugees and host communities become more self-reliant. “Investments are being made to give back to the communities who share their essential services with refugees, and to support the potential of people through livelihoods,” she noted.

“In solidarity with the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees created with the leadership of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, UNHCR and the international community have come together in a Support Platform to mobilize support for refugee-hosting countries, and in key return areas in Afghanistan,” explained Yoshida.

According to the UNHCR Representative, it is crucial to enable refugees to support themselves while they are in Pakistan. It also helps better prepare refugees to contribute to the reconstruction of their country, if they decide to return to Afghanistan in the future when conditions are safe. “The investment in livelihoods is essentially an investment in Afghanistan’s future,” Yoshida said.

Since completing her training, Nida has established her own beauty salon at home. Her customers have given her top marks for her new beauty salon techniques, and many are now regulars.

Making her own living has given Nida a new confidence about life. “Since losing my husband, I’ve faced tremendous hardship. I never thought that I would have to assume the full financial responsibility for my family,” says Nida. “But I’ve made it this far, and I’ll keep going. I have more hope now.”

She has friends in the refugee community and welcomed the support that UNHCR and international donors are providing to the local community. “I know this is a project that helps refugees and local people. The Afghan refugees and local people often face similar challenges,” Nida adds.

Nida received a tool kit to support her in starting up her own business. “This has been a real help for me. I knew how to do everything, but the cost of starting a small business would have been difficult. The kit meant I could start earning for my family straight away,” she describes.

Now, Nida is able to support herself and her children, and that has made a big difference, but she also dreams of doing more.

“Financial independence is paramount to raise my daughters and to give them a sense of self-esteem and dignity. If I can show them that I’m capable of standing on my own feet, I believe they will both be able to lead independent and prosperous lives when they get older,” she says.

In 2020 and 2021, The Big Heart Foundation was one of the main supporters for new equipment for the beautician, tailoring and dressmaking courses in four NAVTTC Centres situated in Islamabad, Kohat, Peshawar and Quetta, Pakistan.

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