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June 15, 2016

Two sisters pave the way for a women-only driving school

Monsoons increase risk

200,000 refugees living on hillsides prone to landslides and flooding are in urgent need of relocation.

Mana Mustafa felt the pangs of labor coming. She had to get to the hospital right away, but it was much too far to walk with her contractions growing stronger by the minute. Her older sister, Ghalia, couldn’t drive her because she never learned how.

Thankfully a male neighbor rushed them to the hospital in time, but getting home to retrieve supplies for the baby proved much more difficult.

Ghalia had no choice but to walk the several kilometers back to her home in the Dakhla camp in Algeria to pick up the much-needed items for her sister and new baby. She then had to wait hours before getting a ride back to the hospital with supplies.

The sisters were frustrated by this difficult and dangerous experience. They knew that something had to change.

It was time for women in Dakhla to have the freedom to move. And it would begin with driving lessons.

Mana and Ghalia are starting a driving school exclusively for women in the Dakhla camp to empower young people and foster community spirit.

Project planning is already under way. Mana will direct the school and Ghalia will be her assistant. They’ve hired an instructor and have availability for 100 women students to take driver’s education in the first eight months.

Their project was one of several selected by UNHCR, and partner OXFAM Belgium. When their school launches this fall, they’ll receive guidance and training to ensure success.

The school not only benefits women – it helps the refugee camp community by providing jobs, too.

“The driving school is exactly the type of project we need to improve the livelihoods of Sahrawi refugees, especially the youth, who have no shortage of great ideas and who know what they need,” said Isabel Selles Zaragozi, the Head of UNHCR’s Tindouf sub-office.

Mana knows she’s going to make a difference for the women – and men – in the camp. “I will be very happy [when the students learn how to drive],” she says. “Women will be free to move without depending on others.”