Joliet club has helped Afghan women and children since 2011

Anthropologist Pam Hunte shares how and why Zonta Club of Joliet got involved

Joliet anthropologist Pam Hunte recently talked about Afghanistan to the Zonta Club of Joliet Area, which has supported women and girls in Afghanistan since 2011.

Hunte, who is also the chairman of the Joliet chapter’s international committee, said because Zonta focuses on women’s rights, including advocating for equality education and an end to gender-based violence, the club had sought a service project that helped on an international level.

Afghanistan was a natural choice because of Hunte’s extensive experience with the country, starting in 1969 when she was a volunteer for the Peace Corps.

“For the past 10 years, we’ve been donating more than $1,000 every year to help Afghan women and girls,” Hunte said.

The money is donated to the Afghan Institute of Learning, a “really successful” non-government organization that helps impoverished women and girls all over Afghanistan, many of them who have no formal education, Hunte said. The AIL has many learning centers; the one Zonta helps is located in Western Afghanistan, Hunte said.

“The focus is on education and income generation,” Hunte said. “There are literacy classes, tailoring classes, a preschool. They’re trying to enable Afghan woman and girls to get out and work or work in their homes through tailoring and learning to write and read because many of them cannot.”

Hunte said more than 1,000 students “come and go” just at this one site. One innovative project at this center is using cellphones to teach literacy, she said. The center periodically sends photos and reports on how the donations are spent to the Joliet Zonta club, Hunte said.

“The women in this club feel very attached to the women in this village,” Hunte said. “It’s really neat that we have this arrangement.”

How did Hunte spend so much of her life focused on and working in Afghanistan?

‘I was really into peace’

Hunte said grew up in Joliet and attended Farragut Elementary School, Hufford Junior High School and Joliet Township High School District 204.

“I’d always been concerned about inequalities in the world,” Hunte said. “And I was always interested in other cultures.”

So she went to the University of Iowa and majored in anthropology and education, she said.

“The Viet Nam war was on,” Hunte said. “I was really into peace. I was looking for adventure. So I joined the Peace Corps right after I graduated in 1969.”

The Peace Corps sent Hunte to Afghanistan for two years, from 1969 to 1971, she said.

“I taught at a boys boarding school in Mazār-i-Sharīf in Northern Afghanistan,” Hunte said. “And I learned the local language of Farsi and the culture, and I also got interested in health...I worked with the village health program. I translated and then I knew I wanted to go into international development for my career.”

Hunte said when earned her master’s degree at Northern Illinois University in 1975, she wrote her thesis on Afghanistan, and when she earned her doctorate in 1980 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she wrote her doctorate on Afghanistan.

Doing her part

For decades, Hunte traveled back and forth to Afghanistan working in the field of international development. Hunte said she’s worked as an anthropologist for such organization as UNICEF and the United National Development Programme and the World Bank and at non-government organizations such as Save the Children and Aga Khan Foundation, she said.

Hunte said she’s worked in the areas of education, health, community participation, poverty alleviation, child labor and refugees.

“Anthropology is taking a look at the local people and finding out what their needs are, what their problems are, what their beliefs are, what their behavior is,” Hunte said. “And so I worked with the organizations in trying to understand the local people who were going to be part of these projects.”

Depending on the project, Hunte said questions might include, “What do you think of girls education?” “Why are your boys working and not going to school?” “Why is this boy in your family going to school and this boy isn’t?”

Hunte said she returned to Joliet in 2000 and worked as a consultant until 2011. She loved her career, the diversity, the hospitality of the Afghan people and the different cultures she encountered.

And she learned finding solutions required more than wanting to find them.

“You think you can help,” Hunte said. “And then you find out you haven’t really helped much. But you still feel you have a part in trying to, somehow, alleviate some of the in equalities through the world.”

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