BOW VALLEY – The Show Project’s storytelling superpowers are going international.
The Shoe Project will be working with 60 Hazara schoolgirls who fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and are between the ages of 18 to 25. The girls are former students of the Marefat High School in Kabul, an institution renowned for empowering young Afghan women.
“The Hazara, they are a persecuted group, a special group in Afghanistan. Taliban hate them. They're cultured, they're artistic, they're great at sports and martial arts. They've got a very rich history and they were targeted,” said Katherine Govier, founder of The Shoe Project.
“So when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, these people at this very special school we read about, the Marefat School, decided to take a bunch of them and get out of there. And the biggest part of them are Hazara unaccompanied young women. They don't have their families with them. They made the choice to flee to Pakistan.”
Govier explained that 450 students from the Marefat school made the arduous journey overland to Islamabad, Pakistan. Of those, 250 have been admitted to Canada and resettled in Saskatoon. The remainder of the group is stuck in limbo hoping to be reunited with their classmates already in Canada.
International women’s groups have reached out to The Shoe Project to lobby on behalf of the women still in Pakistan to help bring them to Canada. Govier explained that that’s not the purpose of The Shoe Project.
“We've got mentors, we've got people like Nan Hughes Poole. I'm not interested in writing angry letters to the government, but these girls are desperate. They're sitting there. They have nothing to do. They're not in school. They're not making progress. They don't know when it will end. And so we can offer them this. We can have them write their stories,” said Govier.
The Shoe Project is a writing and performance workshop for immigrant women to tell the stories of their journeys to Canada through a pair of shoes, and has been operating for 10 years.
Banff’s Nan Hughes Poole has been a voice coach with The Shoe Project for five years and is excited to start working with the Afghan women. The project has always helped immigrant women already in Canada, and Poole sees this as an opportunity for the Afghan women to feel like a part of the fabric of Canada before they even arrive.
“It’s helping them develop their voice and tell their story. We're supposed to be open to people who want a better life and of course, they become part of the Canadian fabric, but they don't lose what they came from and I think this project in particular, by focusing on story, by focusing on being articulate about what it is you love or what is stressful or what is painful or how you look ahead. I think it's a great tool for these women and also for Canadians,” said Poole.
“And I think that by telling them, even before they've stepped on the soil here that their voice matters, what a gift.”
Since The Shoe Project’s start 10 years ago, it has only become more important as a tool to help immigrant women find their voice and also as an educational tool for Canadians.
“You really learn about silence in women in other cultures. All over the world this is on still. And we're liberated and lucky and living our free lives,” said Govier.
Poole echoed Govier’s sentiment.
“I always love seeing women come out of their shells and it's different for every woman. Sometimes it's by seeing someone else be brave and take that step and say a word louder than the rest of the sentence or pause for effect.
“Every woman is different, but that to me is one of the remarkable things about this project. By working with them in these larger groups, I will be able to see how they grow and how they become more comfortable with themselves and proud of their story too.”
Govier said operating a part of last year’s project online due to COVID-19 has prepared them to handle the work with the women in Pakistan over Zoom but was eager to point out that it cannot all be done online.
An alumnus of The Shoe Project, Samia Hussain originally from Pakistan, has a friend at the Aga Khan Institute who is on the ground helping and has partnered with a theatre group in Islamabad to organize a space for a live reading and performance of the stories.
There are other challenges surrounding the project including how to navigate the 12-hour time difference, logistics of equipment for the participants and funding the ptoject.
The 60 Afghan women got started over Zoom on Monday (Jan. 17) and will culminate in an online performance in March or April 2022 where the young women will share their stories.
The project is supplying the women in Pakistan with tablets, so that they will be able to connect with the mentors, write, and actively participate in the program. Raising the money needed for the tablets, purchasing them, and shipping them to Islamabad has proved to be a challenge, and The Shoe Project is still looking for donations to help with the costs.
Visit theshoeproject.online for more information on how to donate to the project.