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Child Marriage Part 2: Tackling Child Marriage, a New Pathway to our Mission

By: Ha Tran


Source: CARE

My internship with Ayni started with a discussion on a fact that has been noticed over time at the schools that AYNI has built in Afghanistan: the significant drop of girls’ enrollment at 8th and 9th grade (13 – 14 years old). Beside other factors such as distance (there are not enough schools in remote areas), security (harassment of the girls on the way to school), lack of female teacher (girls who reach puberty usually are not allowed to be taught by men), perception on girls’ education (girls only need to acquire primary education), child marriage is proven to be a major barrier to girls’ education: girls are usually married off at 13-14 years old and very few make it back to school once married. Thus, I was charged with researching child marriage and provide recommendations on what Ayni can do to tackle the issue.

The issue that was initially thought to be somewhat local to the community, or the country, unfold as a long-standing problem that nations have been grappling with for decades. Child marriage is identified to be a major obstacle to achieve 6 of the 8 millenium development goals, in other words, without tackling child marriage, the international community would not fulfill its commitment to reduce global poverty. Each day, nearly 39,000 girls under the age of 18 become child brides (CARE). The issue has captured an increasing amount of attention and its profile has been raised through media and advocacy work by international organizations. In July 2014, the first Girl Summit took place in UK aimed at mobilising efforts to end child, early and forced marriage. The first US – Africa summit in August 2014, initiated by the US President Obama, took ending child marriage as a key element to call on efforts from leaders.

According to UNICEF in 2012, Afghanistan ranks number 25th of the countries with the highest rate of child marriage (quantified by the number of women from 20-24 married before the age of 18), which appears surprisingly low to the people who know about the country. This statistic has bothered us for a while until we found a number of reports stating how challenging it is to collect data in a war zone and thus the result for Afghanistan remains questionable. An expert on women empowerment in the country that I had a chance to talk to, explained how sensitive the topic is amongst Afghans, leading to an underreported statistic. She believed Afghanistan should be at least number 10 on the list.

The research gradually unveiled the scale of the problem and how much effort has been put in tackling child marriage by the international community. Since 1990, international organizations started implementing programs in the developing world, mostly in Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia where early marriage is most prevalent. In 2007, the International center for research on women (ICRW) undertook and published the first study on the programs worldwide related to child marriage. Evaluating 23 out of 150 programs that have a component dedicated to preventing child marriage brought ICRW to conclude on the strategies used to address early marriage:

1. Empower girls with skills, information and support networks

2. Educate and engage parents and community members

3. Ensure a high-quality education for girls

4. Provide economic incentives to girls and their families

5. Advocate girls’ rights protecting laws

Lessons have been drawn from past programs but before anything can be implemented at Ayni, the interventions must be contextualized, especially in an extremely culturally, ethnically and politically complex setting like Afghanistan (Something noticeable is that not many of the programs having child marriage prevention as a component have been implemented in Afghanistan, let alone programs that tackle child marriage directly). Therefore, after laying out the list of recommended strategies for tackling and preventing child marriage as well as the models of successful programs in other countries, reaching out to different stakeholders who understand Afghan culture and who have a certain expertise in the field to verify the validity of the interventions is critical. If the first part of the project, literature research, serves as the foundation for understanding the problem, the second part, stakeholders reaching out, really brings us to the deepest layers of the Afghan culture and moves us a step further in piloting the interventions in rural Afghanistan. This is where I really got to learn about the complexity of the Afghan culture, the decision making power at different levels in Afghan society and its implications on the best approaches to dealing with early marriage.

An exemplary successful intervention program, Berhane Hewan, was implemented in 2004-2006 in rural Ethiopia by the Population Council in partnering with the Ethiopian government. Along with engaging community members to support girls’ education and educating the girls themselves, Berhane Hewan used a solution which was considered pretty creative: provide goats and sheeps to families at the end of the program conditional upon keeping the girls at school for the duration of the program. This intervention makes sense because financial burden is one of the most important reasons for parents to marry off their daughters early (they cannot afford feeding too many people; (in some places) they are given a certain amount of money for giving their daughters away). And apparently it worked in rural Ethiopia. As for Afghanistan, poverty remains on top of the list of causes for child marriage, since parents have the right to a “bride price” at the marriage. Therefore, alleviate families’ financial burden by awarding goats and sheeps, which remain important animals in a country that rely on farming, sounds promising. However, talking to people deeply involved in Afghan culture gave me the feeling that this is something never been done in Afghanistan and that anything using money need a lot of attention since money risks ruining the culture and does not bring about long-term impact. In a country where decisions are made collectively and community leaders have tremendous influence on households, money might not be as effective in coping with child marriage as community education and engagement. I came across a report on an awareness program about girls’ education implemented in an Afghan village. A man who initially had not sent his daughter to school, after attending a training session where a community leader explains that the prophet Muhammad encourages both male and female education, stated that he had not known this information before and that from then on he would make sure to let his daughter going to school. I was amazed by how simple it sounds and realized that even inside Afghanistan, the interventions must be contextualized to each village, each community. Afghan society is organized into very tight-knit communities that even people coming from other villages in the same district might be considered outsiders, which renders Ayni’s work in rural villages more challenging.

At first, Ayni targeted child marriage as a barrier to girls’ enrolment at Ayni’s schools: because girls get married early, they drop out of school. We wanted to prevent child marriage so that girls can continue on their education. However, girls might drop out because of other reasons and those who do not go to school are more vulnerable to early marriage. Thus, child marriage and lack of education constitute a chicken-and-egg problem: child marriage is at the same time a cause and a consequence of the lack of education. In other words, simply continuing doing what Ayni is doing to keep girls at school: build schools in remote areas, train female teachers and provide computer training will help preventing child marriage. Also, in fulfilling our mission in Afghanistan, Ayni needs to tackle child marriage. In a nutshell, early marriage is now a thread woven into our programs.

Moving forward, Ayni is exploring partnership opportunities with organizations in the area to coordinate on implementing community engagement programs. From Ayni’s part, Ayni envisions utilizing its existing relationship network with the ministry of education, principals, teachers and parents associations at its schools. There is still a long way to go, but beyond anything, we are excited to take on a new pathway, which is grappling with child marriage, to work towards our mission. With the interventions we are about to implement, we believe we can make a real impact on the community as a tiny organization with very limited resources.

With child marriage and other innovative projects underway, I believe Ayni is stronger than ever. After 3 months working at Ayni as an intern, I’m still involved with its projects even after finishing my internship. I support them and I can’t wait to see how far Ayni can go.

Child Marriage Part 1: Using Business Solutions for Social Issues

By: Ha Tran

Often times people look at me and ask: What is a business student doing in a non-profit organization? Believe me, I have been asking myself the same question.

After 1 year in business school, if somebody asked me what I have learned, that would be a tough question to answer. I wouldn’t say I now know how to do business, which is way far from the truth, and I’m sure not only with business school but with many other majors, the knowledge and skills you gain at school are not as easy to quantify as the crop a farmer harvests a year. They only come to light once you realize you look at things differently.

In my case, after a certain time in business school, I realized that when looking at a problem, I try to take a step back and use a framework to approach the issue from different angles. What is the problem? What are the surface and underlying causes? What is the context? Who are the stakeholders? – Answering these questions would lead to framing the real problem, which is the most important task of problem solving. Then for brainstorming solutions, I would ask: Who do we “target”? Who are working in the same field as us? What resources do we have?, because if there is anything tangible I learned from business school, that would be our famous 4Cs in the Marketing class: Context, Customer (Who do we “target”?), Competitor (Who are working in the same field as us?) and Company (What resources do we have? What are our strengths and weaknesses?). Understanding the 4Cs is critical for any business situation. To put it simply, strategic problem solving is the first and foremost thing I see transferrable from business to non-profit, which is indeed critical for the latter.

Business people are good at problem solving, or at least that’s what people usually think they are. But even somebody like Ashok Alexander, former consultant at Mckinsey and director of the India office at the Gates Foundation had to admit he only thought he knew how to solve problems, after years of experience with the most prestigious consulting firm in the world, until he was charged with directing the Avahan program to reduce the spread of HIV in India. Once you figure out Indian female sex workers are amongst the population most vulnerable to HIV, you would ramp up distributing condoms to this targeted group. Condoms would work nicely until you realized that Indian men are actually the decision maker in using condoms. The truth is they don’t like using them and women would face violence once suggesting them to do so. Condoms are apparently no longer a viable solution. Social issues, just like businesses, require extensive understanding of the context and the target group, except that they are more complex and multifaceted. Yet, if there is any problem that needs to be placed on top of the agenda for nations to address, I think it would be poverty, preventable deaths, gender equality, etc. rather than corporations’ profit sinking. Global issues do need business minds, strategic thinking and problem solving skills.

The complexity of a problem that weaves multiple disciplines is exactly what fires me up, because in researching about these issues, I learn a tremendous amount about different subjects: customs, religion, politics,etc. in different parts of the world. Over the last year, I worked in two projects that have to do with: cornea donation in China, a country that has the highest number of corneal blindness but is ruled by Confucianism, which promotes the preservation of the body; family planning in Pakistan, the 6th populous country in the world but only 30% of married women use contraception and this rate has surprisingly stagnated for decades. How do you solve these problems? Facing such problems, I used to think they were impossible to be solved. But the more I get into problem solving, the more I’m eager to learn about these issues, the more hope I have. My life-long goal is to identify ways to use business solutions for solving social issues.

I have brought such an optimistic attitude and passion about strategic problem solving into the research on Child marriage in Afghanistan at AYNI this summer. Another far-reaching global issue, although daunting, will open up a new path for AYNI, a small and nimble organization, to fulfill our mission of empowering and creating access to education for our adorable girls in Afghanistan.

Board Insights- Catherine

CatherineBy: Catherine Gelband

My involvement with Ayni stems from my 26 year relationship with a Montessori school in Seattle. My experience on its Board cemented my lifelong belief in the value of education. My father, my first hero, is the quintessential self-made man. From his example, I believed as a child and still believe that an education is the root to all that is possible.

Ten years ago, I began thinking about how I could apply my dedication to education to a more global effort. A chance meeting in a Seattle grocery store with Ayni’s founder, Julia Bolz, a law school classmate of mine, gave that interest a direction. I agreed to help Julia form the 501c3 that is Ayni.

I have chaired Ayni’s Board since 2010. I am awestruck by what our organization has been able to accomplish. Annually over 15,000 children, mostly girls, attend the schools that Ayni has built.

Like the rest of the Board, I contribute hundreds of hours each year to Ayni. I have a particular fondness for numbers, so the financial oversight of the organization is a particular passion of mine. I helped lead the organization’s transition from its remarkable founder to our first paid executive director. My partnership with our ED Ginna Brelsford reflects our shared optimism for what is possible in Afghanistan and our sustained belief that education is absolutely the answer to the future success of the country and its people. Ginna’s leadership of Ayni has been pivotal in helping us remain nimble and innovative as an organization.

I have never visited Afghanistan. That could make connecting to our work challenging, but as an organization we are devoted to collecting stories—through interviews, videos and photographs to inspire all of us that support Ayni. What these stories show me time and again is that the girls of Afghanistan believe passionately in their own potential, are certain of their abilities to overcome any obstacle and are aware of their integral part in the future of their beautiful country. I believe in these girls and the power of the education we help them to receive.

New school, New opportunities

My mom teaches at a school where they have a new building but have also kept some of the old classrooms that are now ruined, dusty and have no doors or windows. Mom says, usually the reason for her students who miss school days is because they don’t want to study in a muddy and dusty room. Mom says she doesn’t want to teach in that classroom either, but she doesn’t have an alternate option. Girls, who went to older Gawhar Khatoon building, told me a similar story. They say their old classrooms had insects like snakes and scorpions or mice and they were always afraid to enter classrooms, as they were scared something would bite them or hurt them. With this new building, the students will start a totally new experience in their academic lives. I see both the old and new Gawhar Khatoon in this picture. I see the new home for all the girls who are waiting to sit in these classrooms and be able to study with fearless mind and not worry about any destructing object coming out of the walls. I believe this new school will bring a significant change in both the teaching process and students’ works which can lead to a better future for all young girls attending this school. IMG_4172IMG_4119

Intern Insights- Stephanie

Steph Blog 1Last fall, I joined the Ayni team and have enjoyed interning here ever since. Ayni’s mission of creating quality educational opportunities that empower and inspire girls in Afghanistan has stayed with me since I started my internship here, and keeps me motivated to do whatever I can to help these girls.

Growing up, the importance of education has always resonated with me. I am a child of Chinese immigrant parents who dreamed that their daughter would achieve more than they did. Both of my parents grew up in middle class families in southern China, and shared a great deal of financial struggles. They couldn’t afford college and constantly searched for work. After they got married, my parents pledged that they were going to start a family and establish careers. They have fulfilled their dreams higher than they had expected. My parents are my heroes and huge inspirations to me. They’ve sacrificed so much for me, and I’ve always been so thankful for them.

I recently graduated from the University of Washington, earning my bachelor’s degree in international studies, with a track in international human rights. My interest in international studies piqued when I joined the Amnesty International club at my high school. I’ve always been compelled in learning about different cultures and wanting to make a difference in developing countries. That’s one of the main reasons why I chose to intern at Ayni—to help girls in Afghanistan earn an education, and ultimately gain a better future. My parents provided me these incredible opportunities, and I want to do the same for these girls.

Updates from Gohar Khaton (08/04)

Afghan staff member Farkhonda recently visited the Gohar Khaton construction site in Mazar-I-Sharif and posted this update:

Because of the Eid holiday, construction workers had a few days off, but they have returned to work and are busy with the project. They just finished bricking the blocks for the building, and have begun the pastering elements of the project.  Workers will also start bricking the blocks for the office rooms next week.

Continue to check back on this page for more news on the progress of construction and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to receive regular updates.





Intern Insights – Sam

1962584_10152069294279092_669823446_nA month ago I joined the team here at Ayni. Since becoming a part of this unique group I have been inspired by the dedication each member commits to promoting the goal of access to quality educational experiences for girls in Afghanistan. As a recent graduate of Seattle University the importance of education is increasingly apparent—leading to greater household decision making power, lowering fertility rates, and giving women more economic independence.

Education is often pushed to the back-burner in periods of extreme conflict, yet it is an essential component of achieving long-lasting peace. Recently our Afghan intern Airokhsh sent a short email describing the current situation in Mazar-i-sharif, the town where our new school is being built. In it she described a shocking environment, an environment that has recently seen violence and brutality used where peace was once prevalent. It is in this lens that I approach the dire need to emphasize increasing access to quality education. It may seem like a small role in the larger scheme of development, but education creates widespread positive change and meaningful impact. In Afghanistan specifically, education has the ability to raise the status of women, reduce the occurrence of early marriage, and engage a historically disenfranchised population in a countrywide conversation about their common future.

It’s easy to feel disconnected when you’re sitting in an office in Seattle, but hearing Airokhsh depict the on-the-ground situation stimulates reflection and action toward our mission. I’m happy to be at a place that is directly impacting the lives of girls and hopefully we can only improve and enhance that mission.

Updates from Gohar Khaton (07/25)

This week one of our Afghan associates Farkhonda visited Gohar Khaton and sent us some construction updates. They may see small from over here, but we are fast approaching the opening of this one-of-a-kind school and excitement is building in the Ayni office!


Workers are busying putting plaster on the walls and putting the final touches on the principal and administrative offices.

The brickwork is moving quickly and looking good. The second block will be finished this week and 99 percent of the brickwork is done on the entire building.

Gohar Khaton Artist Competition Begins!

Ayni Education International is hosting an artist competition to select artwork for the new school. The competition is open nation-wide to Afghan women and girls of all ages, with the aim of promoting and encouraging creativity in and outside of the classroom. The competition will take place over six weeks, with the winners’ work being exhibited during the opening ceremonies. Three prizes will be awarded and twelve honorable mentions noted. A workshop will be conducted for all 15 artists to learn how to install their work on the walls of the Gohar Khaton Girls’ School.

The architecture of the Gohar Khaton Girls’ School is the brainchild of architect Bob Hull and Janet W. Ketcham with input from the University of Washington’s Assistant Professor Elizabeth Golden and her design studio students. Gohar Khaton’s emphasis on community engagement started with young Afghan girls gathered in a small classroom drawing their dream school on pieces of paper. From that small dream an even bigger dream emerged—Gohar Khaton is the first of its kind. A school designed to work with the elements to regulate the sweltering summers and harsh winters of northern Afghanistan, while also fostering curiosity and learning through its unique design.

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The artist competition is a part of Ayni’s new emphasis on innovation in education. We want to move beyond merely supplying education, by trying to empower girls by giving them a voice. For us this starts in the classroom, but quickly moves beyond when girls are given the opportunity to express themselves creatively. We have seen firsthand the power of these efforts—girls are able to join the public sphere like never before by voicing their opinions and experiences.

The artist competition kicked off this week when young female artists were shown around Gohar Khaton to get a better feeling of the space. Here are some photos highlighting this trip.



2UntitledStay connected with the competition through our blog and stay tuned for more information about our fall fundraising event focused on the importance of artistic expression in shaping girls’ education.

Intern Insights – Ha

17286_10200350265572340_344766453_nWhen I was a kid, a fortuneteller told my mom that later on what I do for a living would have to do with saving lives. My mom guessed I would be a doctor. I used to dream of being a teacher one day. But neither doctor nor teacher worked out.

I know how fortunate I am. My parents gave me the best education one could have. They sent me to college to study management in France. But I always knew there was one thing they could never help me with: finding a career that would fire me up everyday. My whole time in college felt like climbing up a ladder without knowing where I was heading. I was so unsure about my future career.

Then came business school. It opened up my world so that I had exposure to different areas that I never had before which, ironically, brought me to the non-profit sector. I realized how fascinated I was listening to people from Path talking about vaccine delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa, how passionate I feel watching the TED talks of Melinda Gates about empowering women around the world. It was an epiphany to me that what I cared so deeply about wasn’t the profit a company makes a quarter, but the number of lives saved in the wake of a new vaccine development, the number of girls getting an education in the most remote areas in the world (it’s still numbers anyway since I study business J). I was deeply touched and inspired by the film Girl Rising that tells the stories of girls from different countries and backgrounds who face the greatest barriers but strive for a better life. A calling flooded over me after watching the film. I need to do something for these girls. And that was when I first met Ginna, the executive director of AYNI Education International who happened to be in the panel leading to the film screening. Her speech was inspirational.

And that was how I end up spending the summer between my 2 years of MBA with AYNI. AYNI’s mission of empowering girls and bringing education to them really resonates with me. I didn’t know much about Afghanistan before my internship but I have learned so much about the country and its people over the last 5 weeks. I just finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The book gripped me of how much suffering Afghan women experience in their lives, which I never imagined could happen in a person’s life. And for the last five weeks, the first thing I did in the morning while having breakfast was read a piece of news about Afghanistan, and as one can imagine, it was all about war, conflicts and women struggling. My days start a little bit heavy like that, but when we were stuffing envelopes to send out appeals, I learned about how much money has been given by donors to our organization, I realized the world we are living in is still a blessing place. There are still a lot of people who care about unfortunate lives. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy what I’m doing so much.

This internship is only my first step into the non-profit sector. I don’t know what the future looks like, but I know for sure that I will keep nurturing my passion for helping and empowering people and pursuing a career in international development. And if everything turns out as I expect, I guess the fortuneteller was right.