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A safe space for meetings

Eine Gruppe von Frauen unterhält sich
Important exchange: a group of women in the Kolba-ye ma centre

People who return to Afghanistan after living in Germany say it often feels strange at first. This is why the “International Psychosocial Organisation” (Ipso) provides a space for exchange. Here, project coordinator Mustafa explains how he and the Ipso team encourage social dialogue as well as social integration.

“Everybody should feel comfortable here. This is why our centre is called Kolba-ye ma in Pashto (‘Our hut’)”. A kolba is a place which feels friendly and familiar. Kolba-ye ma is one of the six Ipso projects in Afghanistan which are supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Kolba-ye ma has recently closed down.

As well as our centre in Kabul there is another one in Jalalabad in the province of Nangarhar. Returnees know they can find somebody who understands them there, because the people available to talk to are in a similar position. People without migration experience are also welcome. Local people who are thinking of emigrating illegally can hear first-hand how difficult life in a foreign country can be, and what emotional, financial and social challenges it involves.

Another project with the name Ham-deli dera (‘Circle of Empathy’) also existed in the centre of Kabul until recently. Since then however it has closed down. Topics of conversation included unemployment and the difficulties in accessing education and apprenticeships, as well as social issues such as education, marriage and forced marriage. For these meetings we furnished a bright room in typical Afghan style, or as Afghans call it watani (‘homely’) – with carpets and seat cushions in warm red tones.

The discussion groups, which were moderated by somebody trustworthy, were held separately for men and women. These groups were designed to help participants feel safer and to open up more. A lot of people find it easier in single-sex groups to tell their personal stories, which have often involved a degree of mental anguish. People who need psychosocial counselling or psychiatric help individually are referred to Ipso’s psychosocial centre.

Eine Mindmap.

We put up a net made of paper and cotton thread on the wall of one of our centres. It illustrates the network which exists with our partner organisations who provide educational and job opportunities. In our psychosocial counselling sessions we talk about how people seeking advice can find a job in the local employment market – the first important step towards reintegration. Our social workers make a note of their clients’ strengths and help them with writing a CV as well as other things, to give them a better chance of being invited for an interview. Our visitors can work quietly and do their research online in a work room, which is filled with computers and well-stocked bookshelves.

For many men and women, returning to Afghanistan doesn’t mean coming back home but another step into the unknown at first. We give them the space to regain their confidence, both with regard to their new life situation and also with regard to themselves. What motivates me and my colleagues every day is seeing how people at our centre support one another. It’s great seeing people make new friends at our centre.”

You can find out more about the advisory services offered by the GIZ in Afghanistan here.

You can get a sense of what a typical day’s work is like for our advisors here.

As of: 10/2020

For many men and women, returning to Afghanistan doesn’t mean coming back home but another step into the unknown at first.