Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

A Helmand Heroine

Fawzia Olumi runs many risks to promote women’s affairs in the province.
Working as head of women's affairs is never an easy job, especially in a dangerous province like Helmand. Fawzia Olumi has been threatened many times, and once her car was fired on - killing her colleague and driver.

Aziz Ahmad Shafee spent a day in Olumi's office, and brought us this story:

It's one o'clock, and time for English lessons at the Women’s Affairs Office in Helmand. The 25 students in this room have a many things to fear - being killed or kidnapped. But that won't stop Hadiah from coming here.

“There are lots of problems, but that's ok. We are afraid that there will be suicide bombers, but we have to fight against all these things. We have to continue with our lives and do something for our country," she says.

Department head Fawzia Olumi says the classes here help women find jobs as teachers, seamstresses and weavers. For the first time, they're also teaching the Koran here. They help girls who have missed years of school catch up.

“Lots of those girls and women were unable to go to school,” says Olumi. “They come here, and we train them and send them back to school. Say they were in the sixth grade - we teach them, and then send them back to the ninth grade."

Forty-four-year-old Fawzia Olumi started out as a teacher herself. In fact, there are many times she'd like to go back into the classroom.

“I'm not happy with this job [as head of women’s affairs for Helmand] because people should work in the field where they have experience. I am a teacher, I trained as a teacher, and I should be teaching my students," she says.

It's hard to get Fawzia to sit down for an interview. The office is crowded with people wanting her attention.

As I'm talking to her, a young woman comes in to complain about her husband. She's been married for ten years to a man she now realises is a drug addict.

"My father gave me away to him ten years ago in Iran. At first we didn't know he was addicted to drugs, and we didn't know what he was like,” says the woman.

Fawzia tells her to bring her husband in so they can try to solve their problems by talking. She says if that doesn't work, she'll introduce them to the court.

No sooner is she finished giving this advice when there's another problem to solve. It's just another busy day in the life of Fawzia Olumi.

I'm Aziz Ahmad Shafee, for IWPR Radio in Helmand.

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