Lives transform when vocational education fends off extremism - China - Tibetol

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Lives transform when vocational education fends off extremism
update:November 12,2018

URUMQI, Nov. 12, 2018 -- At a garment factory workshop in Hotan, northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Buwiraziye Memetohti patiently explains a sewing technique to a colleague. She looks assured and at ease.

Every morning, Buwiraziye takes her daughter to kindergarten by bike before work and picks her up before heading home for dinner, a normal routine for any working mother. However, it took her a long time to live such a way of life.

Not long before, she had been a housewife confined to her home and covered with a dark long robe and veil.

After she graduated from high school with top grades, Buwiraziye was accepted by a college outside Xinjiang, but her father refused to support her financially in her studies because she was a girl. Instead, deeply influenced by extremist religious thinking, her father dragged her into activities of spreading extremist ideology.

Buwiraziye and her family were required to attend one of the vocational training institutions founded by the region's government for people who had been influenced by extremism and committed minor offenses.

"Between 2010 and 2015, religious extremism spread fast in Hotan. Locals were vulnerable to being lured by such teachings," said Abdukebir Abdukheyyum, a teacher at the training institution.

"When I saw the well-lit classroom and dormitory, the first thought that came to my mind was that the college I should have gone to must look like this," Buwiraziye said, recalling her first day in the training center. "I had not realized I missed school that much."

Buwiraziye took courses such as language and introduction to law, learning how to sew and make clothes alongside. "The teachers were very nice and patient. We had a clinic and psychological counseling service," she said.

Buwiraziye's husband also attended the training program. "He used to work as a mechanic but the income wasn't stable. With me being a housewife, money had always been tight," she said. "Now we both have jobs and live in a public housing project. It is much better."

Bahargul Erkin, 24, is studying at a similar training center in Kashgar and struggling to recover from an abusive marriage.

The marriage was not even legal. At the age of 15, Bahargul was forced by her parents to drop out of school and marry a man 40 years older than her.

Without any legal documents but through a simple religious ritual, she had no choice but to become the seventh "wife" of a self-claimed iman.

"He beat me quite often. When I was ill, he refused to send me to the hospital because he thought the hospital was not halal," Bahargul said.

After such family violence, her husband soon divorced her by chanting "Talaq" three times at her to complete the procedure that was required.

Her ex-husband was jailed for breaking the criminal law and counter-terrorism law. Bahargul was sent to the training center for taking part in illegal activities of spreading religious extremism influenced by him.

"Here I began to realize that the extremist ideas my ex-husband advocated were poisonous and full of hatred," she said. "Now I am gradually getting back on my feet."

The main purpose of vocational training is to help trainees restore a normal life, and through learning skills, seek employment and even start a career, said Mijit Mehmut, an official with the Kashgar government.

The governments in Kashgar and Hotan have adopted preferential policies to attract companies to set up labor-intensive business projects. In Yutian County, the training center has reached out to eight factories, which hired more than 500 trainees of the center.

"Now, Xinjiang is generally stable, with the situation under control and improving. In the past 21 months, no violent terrorist attacks have occurred," said Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the region's government, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

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