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UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken visits Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2007/Khadivi
UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken holds a newborn baby at the Sadat Health Clinic in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan.

By Roshan Khadivi

NEW YORK, USA, 18 April 2007 – UNICEF National Ambassador Clay Aiken has visited central Afghanistan to see for himself how UNICEF is trying to improve life for children in the region.

“We met a number of young women who have an amazing outlook on their future now in post-conflict Afghanistan,” said the US pop star. “There is an amazing sense of hope, an amazing sense of promise, not only in the country but in the youth as well.”

At the Sadat Health Clinic near Bamyan, Mr. Aiken saw lifesaving measures in action and even administered the oral polio vaccination to a newborn baby. Besides providing immunization, the clinic offers family planning services and midwives to advise mothers on breastfeeding and good hygiene practices.

People from other villages sometimes walk up to four hours in order to reach the clinic.

UNICEF supports Sadat Health Clinic by training health staff in hygiene education, vaccines, integrated maternal and child health, and nutrition. The organization has also assisted with the construction of water points and latrines to provide safe drinking water and sanitation.

Literacy for girls and women

During his two-day stay in Bamyan, Mr. Aiken also visited the Said Aabad women’s literacy centre, which UNICEF helped to establish last October. He heard from girls and women aged 16 to 50 about how they were learning to read and write for the first time, and the subsequent impact on their lives.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2007/Khadivi
Clay Aiken talks with students at Shirin Hazara School in Afghanistan’s Foladi Valley.

In Bamyan Province, the literacy rate is 6 per cent for women and 44 per cent for men. UNICEF currently supports over 95 literacy courses in the province and is working to create 30 new literacy centres there due to high demand.

“Educated women can contribute effectively to the reduction of child and maternal mortality rates,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue, who joined Mr. Aiken on this visit. “Educated women will be able to voice their concerns and also make better decisions in regard to their families.”

Ms. Mbengue also urged government officials to make adult literacy initiatives a priority and to ensure the active involvement of women in training programmes and activities.

Rebuilding schools, training teachers

Despite challenging, bumpy paths in the mountainous region, the delegation members continued with their visit to meet hundreds of girl students at Shirin Hazara School in Foladi Valley, west of Bamyan. There, Mr. Aiken spent time with students and the teachers in their outdoor classrooms.

“As a former teacher, I recognize that spark of hope and excitement all children possess when given the opportunity to learn,” he said. “Rebuilding schools, training teachers, providing essential supplies and teaching materials are just some of the advances UNICEF and its partners have made to keep that hope flourishing.”

Still, girls’ school enrolment in Bamyan remains low at just 38 per cent, compared to 62 per cent for boys. Although Mr. Aiken witnessed positive moves to address this situation and make lasting improvements for young people, at least 30 per cent of the province’s school-age children – over a million in all – are not even enrolled in school.

That fact alone shows there is still much work to be done.




18 April 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Hani Shawwa reports on UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken’s visit to central Afghanistan.
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