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Supporting Afghanistan’s women

Marnie Gustavson lives and works in Afghanistan training Afghan people to become leaders. She gave a talk at the Penny Farthing Pub on Monday.  - Andrea Peacock/News staff
Marnie Gustavson lives and works in Afghanistan training Afghan people to become leaders. She gave a talk at the Penny Farthing Pub on Monday.
— image credit: Andrea Peacock/News staff

For North Americans, visiting Afghanistan is something most would never consider.

But for Marnie Gustavson, originally from the United States, Kabul, Afghanistan is a place she happily calls home.

Gustavson is the executive director of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Services for Afghanistan (PARSA), a private, non-governmental organization that works directly with the people of Afghanistan.

“It’s very satisfying, because you’re really part of rebuilding a country,” said Gustavson.

Gustavson grew up in Afghanistan in the 1960s, and returned 10 years ago after the fall of the Taliban.

She was at the Penny Farthing Pub on Monday giving a talk to members of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) nand Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan).

The luncheon was a fundraiser for CW4WAfghan’s teacher training and community libraries, said Victoria Chapter Chair Jill Leslie.

“We’re all about education for women and their families,” said Leslie of CW4WAfghan’s partnership with PARSA.

In Afghanistan, Gustavson has 75 Afghan people working for her and running PARSA’s programs. PARSA’s main focus is on training Afghan leaders to be able to run programs in their own communities. PARSA also focuses on economic programs for women and youth leadership.

Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan funds PARSA, which has offices in five different provinces in Afghanistan and works in 11 different provinces.

“We think there’s a lot of strength in partnerships,” said Breanda Canitz, president of CFUW.

“CFUW is really focused on education and security of women in the world. We see education as a way to give women independence and their ability to make some changes in their life.”

PARSA also receives funding from contracts with the US Embassy and the Danish Embassy, for example.

According to Gustavson, the most challenging part of running her organization in Afghanistan is not the funding, but the staffing.

“The biggest impediment for us is finding people capable of working,” she said. “For the people who have lived in the country in a war setting, there’s a limit to their capacity to learn because they’ve never been exposed to it.”

Gustavson added that much of the training involves sending staff overseas. She hopes PARSA can become a strong social enterprise agency.

“What’s next for my organization is for my Afghans to really be able to fund it,” she said.

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