Mercy Corps’ vocational training programs in southern Afghanistan have far-reaching benefits beyond the gift of learning, fundamentally changing students’ lives. Women often come to class with little knowledge of the world outside their tightly controlled home lives. They frequently begin with low self-confidence and little belief that there may be a future for them. Yet, they graduate as confident, ambitious young adults who want to contribute to society and make a difference in life. Young men, formerly out-of-work, develop the skills to support themselves. Through interactions within the program that span generational, ethnic, and tribal lines, they are guided away from violence and toward positive habits that strengthen their families and communities.
In August 2021, the Taliban reclaimed the country, and the future of these programs is uncertain. These photos were taken during the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, when Afghan society was more stable than it is today.