The Top 10 Reasons to Support Girls’ Education

To change the world, educate the girls.

The immediate benefit and long-term impact of educating a girl is astonishing. Health improves. Economies grow. Societies are transformed. When girls are educated, their families, communities, and nations prosper. Educated girls are changing the world. Here’s why:

1. An educated girl can increase her income. A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more income as an adult (The World Bank, 2011). More income means better nutrition and healthcare for her family. Living conditions improve. Income can be the impetus to get out from under the grinding cycle of poverty into a life with choices and opportunities.

2. She marries later. An educated girl breaks the cultural pattern of girls marrying as children. Girls with higher levels of education are also less likely to have children at an early age (UNESCO, 2013). Marrying later means she won’t be a child herself when she becomes a mother.

3. An educated mother has fewer children. She has better knowledge about contraception as well as increased opportunities for employment. An educated mother provides better care of her children at home, thus increasing the value of her children’s human capital and reducing the need for more children (IZA World of Labor, 2016).

4. Educated mothers are less likely to die in childbirth. Educated women’s knowledge about health care contributes to reduced maternal mortality rates during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Increased education of girls also leads to more female health care providers to assist with prenatal medical care, labor and delivery, and follow-up care. Skilled care before, during, and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborns (WHO, 2019).

5. Her children are healthier. The single biggest factor in reducing the mortality rate among children under five is more education for women (as reported in Scientific American, 2011). A literate mother has a 50% higher chance of her child surviving past the age of five (UNESCO, 2011). More education helps women make better decisions about prenatal care, basic hygiene, nutrition, and immunization, all of which contribute to healthier children.

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6. Children of an educated mother are less likely to be malnourished. Malnutrition accounts for 45% of all deaths among children under five worldwide (Lancet Report, 2013). An educated mother is more likely to feed her children healthy food, to know the signs of malnourishment, and to take action if she suspects a problem. Adequate nutrition in the young child contributes to normal brain and physical development and overall better health and well-being.

7. She invests in future generations and her community. An educated woman invests nearly all (90%) of her income into her family and community (Phil Borges, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World, 2007). Her knowledge influences how she raises her children and impacts her role in the family and the community. An educated mother is more than twice as likely to send her children to school (UNICEF, 2010) thus continuing the cycle of education and establishing a precedent for the generations that follow.

8. She experiences less discrimination. Girls and young women who are educated have a greater awareness of their rights (Education First: An Initiative of the United Nations Secretary General, 2012). They are more likely to stand up for themselves in male-dominated cultures and to advocate for themselves and their children.

9. She makes her own decisions. Educated girls and women have greater confidence and freedom to make decisions that affect their lives (Education First: An Initiative of the United Nations Secretary General, 2012). They’re better equipped to challenge the cultural imperative that women belong in the home, raising children and doing the chores. Education empowers young women to think beyond the cultural norms and pursue their dreams of a better life.

10. She’s safer. Education protects women from abuse (Atlantic Monthly, May 15, 2014). Extremists hate smart girls because smart girls are less likely to be kept down. Girls’ schooling has a protective effect against domestic violence, rape, and child marriage. Each additional year of schooling is associated with a 1% increase in a female’s ability to refuse sex with her partner. Women with some or completed secondary education have an 11 and 36% lower risk of violence, respectively, compared with women with no education (World Bank report, 2014). Educated women are more likely to work outside the home, avoid isolation, and earn income, all of which lessen their vulnerability to domestic and physical abuse.

Educating girls works

Incredible things happen when a girl gets the education she needs. Her life and the lives of her children improve. She earns an income and contributes to the local economy. She models confidence and self-determination for her children and the girls and women in her community. Thanks to the support of donors like you, we can continue to empower girls and women in Central Asia, where education is changing the world, one girl at a time.

Video: Principal Thanks You For Helping Kindergarteners

Your past support has changed the lives of hundreds of children enrolled at Kindergarten #5!

Earlier this year, the kindergarten’s principal, Zolfiya Nekpaeva, spoke with Mahbuba Qurbonalieva, the director of Central Asia Institute Tajikistan. She wanted to express her gratitude for the lifechanging renovations made to the 30-year-old kindergarten she oversees.   

An Old School Transformed

In 1989, Kindergarten #5 was a brand-new building situated in the center of Khorog, a sleepy little mountain town nestled in the Pamir Mountains. Back then, Kindergarten #5 was a state-of-the-art facility, especially for such a small community, and recognized by the locals as the “the best kindergarten in town.”

Sadly, time hasn’t been kind to Kindergarten #5. With more than 300 children aged 2 to 5 passing through its halls each year the school experienced a lot of wear and tear. Eventually, it fell into disrepair. The walls and floors rotted, windows cracked, and the sewer system broke. The building became a hazard. Someone needed to intervene. That someone would be Mahbuba Qurbonalieva, director of Central Asia Institute Tajikistan (CAIT).

In 2014, Mahbuba heard how desperate parents and teachers were to renovate Kindergarten #5. She jumped at the chance to help. With the help of donors from around the world, Central Asia Institute Tajikistan has since repaired the school’s exterior, overhauled classrooms, replaced broken windows, fixed the sewer system, renovated bathrooms and kitchens, installed a boundary fence, and much more. Today, after all of the improvements, Kindergarten #5 is hardly recognizable.

Kindergarten 5 in Khorog
Student engagement and hands-on learning is encouraged at Kindergarten #5.

The structure, however, isn’t the only thing that has been upgraded. The kindergarten staff, with the support of Central Asia Institute Tajikistan, have been able to participate in rigorous teacher training programs. Equipped with the latest teaching methods, they now have the skills to accommodate different learning styles and inspire student engagement. This is a huge improvement from the way teachers used to teach at Kindergarten #5. Before they participated in the CAI-sponsored training programs, teachers used Soviet-style teaching methods. These methods required students (even children as young as 2 years old) to stay seated for close to 9 hours a day and rewarded rote memorization over comprehension. Because of Kindergarten #5’s excellent facilities and success with modern teaching methods, teachers from the region – especially teachers from rural and isolated schools – travel the long distances to work and learn at this model school.

Thirty years after it was built, Kindergarten #5 is once again a well-respected school and a prime example of a holistic learning environment. The children, parents, teachers, and principal of Kindergarten #5 are all incredibly grateful to the generous donors living half-a-world-away who made this all possible.

Thank you for changing the lives of hundreds of children enrolled at Kindergarten #5, and future generations to come!

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Today is Afghanistan’s Independence Day: 100 Years of Freedom, 40 of Them at War

Today celebrates 100 years since Afghanistan gained its independence. December will mark 40 years of violent conflict. And, if the most optimistic projections are believed, 2019 could be the first year of peace since then.

The eighth and possibly final round of talks between the United States and Taliban concluded earlier this month, with U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad tweeting, “if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours, and conclude the agreement we have been working on.” The agreement will open negotiations between Afghan parties over the country’s political future, providing a chance for lasting peace after four decades of violent conflict. However, as expectations rise daily for a public announcement of the agreement, preparations for these negotiations must ensure that the peace agreement is sustainable.

Studies have shown that an inclusive process is an integral factor to sustainable peace. UN Women reports that women’s participation in peace talks improves the chances of a successful agreement by 64%. Their inclusion also increases the durability and the quality of a peace agreement. When women participate, the resulting agreement is 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.

Despite this evidence, Afghan women have been largely absent from peace efforts. Of the twenty-three known talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban from 2005-2014 (none were official), women were present at the table on only two occasions. In the current effort as well, their voices have been absent. Afghan women fear that a peace deal with the Taliban could reverse significant gains made over the past 18 years in securing women’s rights and bring back the Taliban’s oppressive policies towards women.

While women’s inclusion improves the chance of achieving sustainable peace, their exclusion can be detrimental. Research on negotiations shows that women raise issues which increase the durability of an agreement but are often left out by men. Further, because women have access to spaces in society which men do not, they offer unique insights to negotiating teams. Without women, the critical issues they raise and information they bring, peace agreements are of worse quality and therefore ultimately less successful.

In response to mounting pressure, the United States, Afghan government, and Taliban have taken steps towards women’s inclusion. Building on increasingly explicit statements from the U.S. negotiating team on the need for women’s representation, U.S. Congress introduced the “Afghan Women’s Inclusion in Negotiations Act” last week, reaffirming Washington’s commitment towards inclusion called for in the White House’s June 2019 strategy on Women, Peace and Security. In February, Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani hosted consultations with 3,000 women to engage women and women’s perspectives in the peace process. Further, prominent women who met with the Taliban on the outskirts of the failed Intra-Afghan dialogue in April noted the Taliban’s genuine desire to engage.

That said, it is far from certain that women’s place in the peace process has been secured. In light of the impending United States withdrawal agreement, Afghan women worry that the United States may not have the leverage or will to ensure their meaningful engagement in a peace process. Contradictory statements made by the Taliban also raise legitimate questions whether they have any real intention of ensuring space for women in negotiations or safeguarding hard-won rights. With the chance of sustainable peace at stake, more must be done.

The most important step is for parties to the conflict and the international community to internalize the opportunity that inclusion presents to peace and the threat that exclusion poses. The evidence is clear. With women’s meaningful inclusion, the chances of a durable peace agreement are greatly increased. With exclusion, the process risks losing support from half of the population. As Rahima Jami, a member of the Afghan parliament, put it, “Afghan women want peace, but not at any cost.” Inclusion must be placed at the center of the process.

Once this is recognized, various models of inclusion may be employed. First, it is essential that women are included in the official negotiating team. The names of the Afghan national delegation team have not yet been revealed but unofficial lists include women. This delegation should meet with prominent women’s groups and civil society influencers more broadly to gain a deeper understanding of their questions, fears, and desires of a peace process to best represent broader society.

Second, official consultative forums should be constituted for women and other civil society actors to provide input into the negotiations. Running parallel to official negotiations, these consultative forums could provide recommendations on issues under discussion, not only injecting ideas into the process but also creating buy-in from influential players. Similar consultative forums were created in the 2014 Colombia peace process and the 1994 Guatemala process. In Guatemala, negotiating parties took almost all recommendations from the consultative forum into account, either directly or indirectly.

As the Guatemalan and other peace processes have shown, opportunities for public participation must be created. Public hearings, consultations, and panels provide forums for the larger public to connect with and inform the process, creating buy-in, and allowing for representation of the broader public’s views. The UN has already begun efforts to ensure greater inclusiveness by engaging women and communities in remote areas to express their views through radio, social media, and television. Other groups, both domestic and international, should multiply these efforts.

Peace is too important to be left to the fighters. Mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters bear the brunt of conflict and have a clear understanding of both its drivers and costs. With their perspectives and voices in all phases of a process, Afghanistan may achieve a lasting peace for the first time in four decades, raising hopes for the next 100 years of independence.

Emily Ashbridge is a researcher on South Asian affairs based at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington D.C.

World Refugee Day Takes on a Different Meaning For Afghan Children

June 20th is World Refugee Day, marked by the United Nations to commemorate the crises and hardships experienced by the 68.5 million displaced people around the world, more than half of whom are children.

For millions of Afghan children, displacement is a way of life. It is deeply woven into their country’s fabric by decades of war, recurrent disasters like droughts and floods, and now by shifting political winds that have led some countries to no longer welcome them.

At present, Afghanistan has among the highest number of displaced people in the world. An estimated 635,000 Afghans are internally displaced within the country due to the ongoing war. Though conflict and insecurity have contributed most to this number, recurrent drought, floods, and other extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe. According to the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, 3.9 million Afghans are facing emergency levels of food insecurity due to extreme drought.

Millions more have been forced to flee the country altogether and seek asylum abroad. Of the world’s 25.4 million refugees — those who are outside their country of origin — an estimated 2.6 million are Afghans. The only country in the world today that has seen more of its citizens flee is Syria. It’s important to reflect on these numbers, not just on World Refugee Day, but every day.

But the problem does not stop there. Despite the fact that the security situation within the country has deteriorated over the past few years, Afghan refugees living abroad increasingly have been under pressure to return home, even by countries that historically welcomed them. More than 834,000 Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan, despite the fact that most have no home to go back to. Many have spent decades living in neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran; many were even born there. For this population of “returnees” finding secure access to shelter, food, jobs, education, or healthcare can be particularly challenging as they no longer have ties to the local communities and sometimes do not speak the same language.

Whether IDP, refugee, or returnee, the situation for Afghanistan’s displaced children is especially difficult.  Alice Thomas, Central Asia Institute’s executive director, explains it this way: “What is so tragic is not only the extreme hardship that Afghanistan’s displaced children face each day in terms of lack of a safe, dry place to sleep or a meal, and exposure to physical violence and exploitation. It is also the fact that they are being denied the main tool they need to effectively lead their country out of crisis to a more peaceful future — an education.”

Access to Education is a Lifeline

In Afghanistan today, 4 million school-aged children — nearly one in two kids — have no access to an education. An entire generation is at risk of missing this essential stepping stone to healing their families, their country, and mitigating the risks they face every day.

For displaced children who are especially vulnerable, schools can offer a lifeline: a safe space where children can learn and thrive, thereby supporting their healthy development and overall wellbeing. Girls who receive an education are likely to have healthier, more prosperous families. They are less likely to be forced into early marriage or be subjected to gender-based violence. Boys who are educated also have better outcomes. They are more likely to get jobs and contribute to their family’s income, and less likely to be drawn to illegal armed groups. In short, for Afghan children — especially those who are displaced — access to education not only provides security in a hostile environment but also serves as a pathway out of poverty and the ongoing cycle of violence.

Unfortunately, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, education often is not prioritized. The vast majority of humanitarian aid received from foreign governments is allocated to emergency food and water, while emergency education remains woefully underfunded. In 2018, only 17 percent of funds requested for emergency education in Afghanistan were met, leaving more than an 80 percent gap.

“Often education is not seen as a lifesaving need,” says Thomas. “But it really is. If children are not in school, the risks to their health and safety are astronomical. School becomes that stable environment and a safe place to be.”

What Is Central Asia Institute Doing on World Refugee Day?

Since 2001, with the help of our generous supporters, Central Asia Institute has been implementing education and livelihood programs primarily in the northern and eastern parts of the country, provinces that are now among those hosting the largest numbers of displaced children. As the local population’s needs have shifted, Central Asia Institute has been adapting our programs to meet the specific needs of displaced children and their families.

Along with providing emergency tent schools and ensuring children have school supplies, Central Asia Institute is working with its local partner to adapt programs like Student Education Support Programs (SESP), vocational training, and literacy programs to fit the needs of displaced children.

“It’s long been our mission to support education in Afghanistan and surrounding countries,” says Thomas. “It’s now become increasingly important for us to support displaced children who are pouring into these communities. Because education is often underfunded by government donors during crises, it’s critical for organizations like Central Asia Institute to step in where we can and fill the educational needs of displaced children.”

Here at Central Asia Institute, World Refugee Day gives us an opportunity not just to stop and consider the situation of the millions of displaced children in Afghanistan and around the world, but also to stand in solidarity with them. We’re rooting for them. We’re banking on their potential to lead their country to a brighter future, and to healthier, more productive, and more peaceful lives. We hope you stand with us.

In Wake of Taliban Peace Talks, Afghan Women Hope Basic Human Rights Still Theirs

Earlier this year the United States commenced peace negotiations with the Taliban in the hope of ending its 18-year military engagement in Afghanistan. While peace is on the table, other pressing issues are also at stake, namely the future of Afghanistan’s women.

Of utmost concern among the Afghan people is the possibility that the Taliban might regain influence in their country. Memories of life under Taliban rule are painful and, with no women invited to the negotiating table, women’s rights are especially vulnerable. The notion that Afghanistan could return to the repressive regime of the Taliban puts fear into the hearts of Afghans everywhere, especially women.

Women in Afghanistan: the backstory

Foreign invasions, wars, and the rise of extremist militant groups have colored the landscape of Afghanistan for the last forty years. Through it all, the rights of women were often exploited, abused, and — in the case of the Taliban — all but destroyed.

Prior to the 1979 Russian invasion, the story of women in Afghanistan reads very differently. The life of an Afghan woman largely mirrored the life of a woman living in the West. The government was progressive, the culture was rich in ideas, and women were free to go to school and work. In fact, from the 1930s to the late 1970s, fashionable Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia.” Women dressed in stylish clothing and wore make-up. One in two government workers was a woman. Nearly three-quarters of Afghanistan’s teachers were women, and 40 percent of the physicians were female. Up until the early 1990s, women were making strides in education, work outside the home, and economic independence. Economic and livelihood programs that supported women to turn their handicrafts and other skills into money-making ventures were widely available, even in rural areas.

Russia’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan started a downward spiral for Afghan women’s rights, culminating in the oppressive, extremist regime of the Taliban, which ran the country from 1996 to 2001.

Shortly after the Taliban came into power, the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. Most Afghans had no electricity and no phone service. Disconnected and geographically remote, Afghanistan was cut off from the rest of the world. Their economy was in shambles. The food supply was meager. Very few children, boys or girls, went to school. The girls who were able to go could not attend beyond fourth grade.

The years under the misogynistic Taliban regime were harsh for everyone, and nearly unbearable for women. Women could not leave their homes without a religiously-approved male companion, i.e. their father, husband, brother, or son. The wearing of burkas was mandatory. Women couldn’t work outside of the home. They couldn’t be treated by a male physician. Women were not allowed to bathe in the public baths despite the absence of running water in most homes.

Deprived of any semblance of independence or self-determination, the religious edicts stripped Afghan females of their inalienable rights as human beings. On the political front, the increasing infiltration of al-Qaeda led to greater and more frequent acts of terrorism, culminating in the catastrophic events of 9/11. With American troops in-country and the Taliban under siege, Afghans wanted peace above all else. They were eager to begin the hard work of reclaiming their country. For women, that work included regaining the rights they had been denied under the Taliban.

Afghans rebuild their country

In the years following the 2001 U.S. offensive against the Taliban and the election of a democratic, civilian government, Afghans worked against overwhelming odds to rebuild their political, cultural, and social institutions. Even though conditions continued to be difficult, brave women and men overcame extraordinary challenges to fight for women’s rights. Women and minorities are now protected under the Afghan constitution. Girls go to school. Women lecture and teach in universities, and women hold leadership positions in government including one-fourth of the seats in Afghanistan’s parliament.

Today I study or I go to university because I want to be a director, a deputy minister, minister, a parliament member, or president. Any issue that would threaten my wishes and my ambitions I would never want it, whatever it is, peace or war. Therefore, our hope for peace is that whatever comes with peace, we want that our freedom for children, youth, adults, women, and the elderly, and rights for education would be maintained. – Mr. Ahmad Shah Safi, Legal Advisor to the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture

The Afghan constitution, signed on January 26, 2004, reinstated all the rights that women had been denied under the Taliban regime. To lose those rights now or at any time in the future would be an assault on the rights of women not only in Afghanistan, but across the globe as well.

Afghanistan’s future is at stake

In early 2019, the United States entered into peace talks with the Taliban creating bewilderment and concern among the Afghan people. They feared that a Taliban return to power would undermine the progress that the country has worked so hard to build since the regime fell nearly two decades ago.

In a March 5, 2019, interview with NPR, Zarlasht Halaimzai, co-founder of Time4RealPeace, explained the situation this way: “The U.S. is negotiating with a group that’s notorious for denying women[’s] basic human rights. [Women] are concerned that constitutional rights to health care and education will be denied. At the moment, the Afghan Constitution protects women’s rights. [The prospect of losing rights] is something that’s really alarming—not just for Afghan women but for anyone who cares about women’s rights.”

Peace without rights is no peace at all

Nasrine Gross

To present the Afghan woman’s perspective, we spoke to Nasrine Gross, a member of the Central Asia Institute’s Board of Directors. Born and raised in Afghanistan, educated at American University in Beirut, and employed for 20 years in information technology in the United States, Nasrine is uniquely qualified to comment on women’s issues in Afghanistan. Starting in 1996, Nasrine worked tirelessly to reinstate the inalienable rights of Afghan women made null and void by Taliban edicts. She collected 300,000 signatures worldwide in support of including women’s rights in the new Afghan constitution. Her tireless efforts to amplify the voices of hundreds of thousands of Afghan men and women who supported women’s rights and empowerment were successful; an equality clause protecting women and minorities was written into the Afghan constitution, signed in 2004.

At this juncture, it’s impossible to know what the results of the peace talks will mean for the future of Afghanistan. At a minimum, Nasrine wants to see the following outcomes for the women of Afghanistan:

  1. Women’s rights must not be negotiated.
  2. The Constitution of Afghanistan must be respected by all.
  3. The political institutions that have been built and rebuilt over the last two decades must remain intact.
  4. Women must be part of the peace negotiations.

While she remains optimistic, the worst-case scenario is a frightening one. “We do not want women’s rights to become a victim of peace!” says Nasrine.

You can help

The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan in 2001 extended beyond military operations to encompass a fight for women’s rights. Then First Lady Laura Bush spoke publicly in defense of women’s rights in Afghanistan and urged American women to lend their support. American women stepped up in droves, including a delegation that visited Afghanistan soon after the start of the military operation to better understand the horrendous treatment and abuse Afghan women had suffered under the Taliban.

Unfortunately, as the U.S. war in Afghanistan has worn on over the last 18 years with no solution in sight, the strong voices of American women who stood in solidarity with their Afghan sisters have largely gone quiet. Nasrine Gross asks, “Just because America is tired of the war in Afghanistan, are American women sick and tired of saying all women have the same inalienable rights?”

In February 2019, more than 700 women from 34 provinces across Afghanistan gathered at a conference in Kabul. Their purpose: to send an unequivocal message to the men now negotiating with the Taliban. “We want peace,” the women said, as reported in The New York Times (Feb 28, 2019), “but not at the cost of our rights.”

The fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan continues. We cannot send them into battle alone. Below are several ways to show your support:

Protecting the rights of women in Afghanistan is a critical step on the path toward ensuring the inalienable rights of all human beings throughout the world, regardless of their gender, age, nationality, religion, ethnicity, or income. Thank you for your support and for reading and sharing this post.

Mother’s Day: Honoring Our First Teacher

Take a moment to honor your mom

What’s the first thing you remember? Is your mother in the memory? Is she teaching you something? Before you started kindergarten, before you went to preschool or had your first play date, your mother was in the picture. Maybe your grandmothers were, too. Mothers shape our lives. They teach us things. Some of those things stay with us throughout our life. We pass the teachings onto our own children and, years later, we give what we’ve learned to our grandchildren. Across generations, the teachings survive.

We reached out to two CAI donors and two overseas partners to see what they remember about their mothers. We wanted to know how the women in their family inspired them to study education or to one day support an organization committed to educating children, especially girls, in remote corners of the world. What was the impact of their mother’s teachings?

Learning to value education starts early

“Mothers are the first teachers of their children,” writes Mahbuba, the country director of Central Asia Institute Tajikistan. Mahbuba’s mother taught her children to be “the best pupil of the school and then the best student of the university and thus you can be the best employee of any place you will be working in the future.”

Now it’s Mahbuba’s turn to instill the importance of education in her three children, balanced by a life of kindness, politeness, and generosity. “If your children have no good clothes to wear,” Mahbuba’s mother tells her, “it’s ok, but they must have necessary items for learning.”

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Charles, a long-time CAI supporter from Eloy, Arizona, was raised by a mother who modeled the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – planting the seed of the importance of giving back. She encouraged charity and empathy in her children, and praised them when they helped others or contributed to meaningful projects. As an adult, Charles honors his mother by looking for opportunities to serve and to love others.

Honoring a grandmother’s mandate

Sometimes it’s the grandmother who plants and nurtures the seed. “My grandmother told me it was my responsibility—my duty—to reach back and help those coming along behind me,” writes another CAI donor. Her grandmother was a second-grade teacher who also tutored adult women who hadn’t attended or finished school. “She was loving, wise, and a kin keeper. I give to CAI to honor her mandate.”

Mothers set an example

Children learn what they see and remember what they hear. The mother of Manizha, the finance officer for Central Asia Institute Tajikistan, modeled decency and intelligence for Manizha and her sister. “All the teaching in the world can be undone,” writes Manizha, “if your children watch you behave in ways that contradict what you’ve said.” Getting an education was compulsory in the family, especially for girls. Now adults, both daughters are educated and, says Manizha, “of course my mother is very proud of us.” Manizha is sharing her mother’s values by passing them along to her daughter and two sons.

On Mother’s Day, take a moment to reflect on the values you learned from your mother. Think about the ways you share those values with your children and grandchildren, and how sharing keeps the legacy alive. A special thanks to our friends for sharing their stories.

Meet CAI’s New Executive Director, Alice Thomas

It is our great pleasure to introduce Central Asia Institute’s new executive director, Alice Thomas!

Earlier this week, Alice also sat down with CAI Communications Director, Hannah Denys, to talk about her vision for Central Asia Institute and why she’ll be a powerful advocate for CAI’s beneficiaries and supporters. Here’s what Alice had to say:

Hannah: Alice, your name might sound familiar to friends of CAI…

Alice: Yes, many of you may already know me from my time on CAI’s board of directors. I joined the board in 2017 and served as the chair of the development committee and as a member of the strategic planning committee.

Hannah: What in your personal background drew you to CAI’s mission?

Alice: I grew up in a family of four girls, was raised by a single, working mom, and attended an all-girls school for 13 years. I’ve seen first-hand the power of girls’ education and the enormous contribution women make to their families, communities, and nations. It has been a great blessing and privilege in my life to have been empowered by education and to have had so many amazing female role models. When I was growing up in this environment, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, if I worked hard and put my mind to it. I feel that every child deserves that opportunity, to have an education, to learn, to have a chance at a better future.

Hannah: Tell us a little bit about your professional background.

Alice: Sure, Hannah. I come to CAI with close to 20 years of experience working for international, non-profit organizations focusing on a range of challenges including armed conflict, poor governance, and environmental degradation. A main thread running throughout my career is advocating for people around the planet who are marginalized – whether they be refugees, those devasted by disasters, or communities affected by environmental pollution.

You can read my full bio on CAI’s website.

Hannah: Tell us about some of the places you’ve worked? Have you ever had the opportunity to work in Central Asia before?

Alice: Yes, I started my international work in Uzbekistan supporting local civil society organizations and promoting good governance. I’ve also traveled to Pakistan several times and other parts of South Asia. My work has taken me to many other parts of the globe – especially in Asia and Africa – and to many poor, underdeveloped, and insecure places.

What I have loved most about this work is the people I’ve met – especially women from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. We’ve recognized our common values and humanity. Being able to connect, to share a good laugh and sometimes a few tears, with people from completely difference backgrounds despite the fact that we come from different cultures and speak different languages … well, these have been among the most meaningful experiences in my life.

Hannah: Why make the switch from refugee and environmental issues to girls’ education?

Alice: I don’t see it as a switch. I see my role at CAI as a continuation of the work I’ve done throughout my career, which is to empower individuals to be agents of change and to work to remove barriers that prevent them from realizing their full human potential. It all starts with education. Girls especially, once educated, can be a solution to so many problems, including improved health, economic opportunity, more sustainable use of natural resources, and peace. 

Hannah: What are your top priorities for your first 100 days on the job?

Alice: My first priority is to get out there and meet with many of our wonderful supporters, without whom none of this would be possible. I also plan to get out to the field and meet our grantee organizations and beneficiaries, the children and women whom we support and who are the real superstars. Finally, I want to balance time away with time here at CAI’s office in Bozeman, Montana where I have the privilege to lead a fantastic, extremely dedicated team, and to work to support them in their efforts.

Hannah: What excites you the most about this new role?

Alice: The opportunity that new leadership brings to re-energize the staff and our supporters, and to double down on our commitment to the mission despite the challenges. I’m excited to meet CAI’s supporters, and to share stories and updates from our projects and beneficiaries in Central Asia. I look forward to sharing our vision and bringing more people to the cause.

There are so many problems in the world. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. Sometimes people cannot help but to look away. But in my case, the only way that I personally have been able to confront all the sadness and injustice in the world is to jump into the fight.

One of my favorite quotes is by Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I truly believe that together we can do anything. So, let’s get busy and change the world!

CONNECT WITH ALICE

Have a question that didn’t get answered here? Or just want to welcome Alice to the team? Alice would love to hear from you. Send a message to info@centralasiainstitute.org and include “Alice” in your subject line

Nowruz: Celebration of Good Fortune and Springtime

As winter begins to loosen its grip, millions of people around the world will welcome the warmer weather by celebrating the Persian New Year, Nowruz.

Nowruz was originally a Zoroastrian tradition, but it has become a part of many different cultures. Countries, like Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, even observe it as a national holiday.

Nowruz – meaning “New Day” in Persian – coincides with the vernal equinox and the onset of spring. Harvest festivals, outdoor games and dancing, and presentations of nature’s bounty are all ways that the New Year is celebrated.

Want to have your own Nowruz celebration? It’s easy. Our favorite way to celebrate is by making the traditional Afghan dessert, haft mewa. Watch the video below to learn how to make your own haft mewa.

Haft Mewa

In Afghanistan, haft mewa is a favorite Nowruz dessert. Representing the various elements of nature, it is comprised of seven fruits: pistachio, walnuts, raisins, dried apricots, almonds, prunes and senjid (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree). The fruits are washed, boiled, and peeled, then left to soak in warm water. The syrupy fruit medley is served to friends and family as a symbol of good fortune.

Sal-e No Mubarak! (Happy New Year)

For other Nowruz traditions check out these articles:

Happy Nowruz: How We Celebrate the Persian New Year

Afghan Culture Unveiled: Afghan Fruit Medley 

The role of education in childhood development

Within the child lies the fate of the future. – Maria Montessori

The beginning of each human life is a time of unlimited potential. Every second, a baby forms more than a million new neural connections, linking curious mind to body. But the external circumstances of our early years determine a great deal of how much that potential we can harness.

Over the years, the importance of early childhood has become more clear. Early childhood development (ECD) is now considered a time which lays the foundation for an individual’s future overall health, happiness, success, and social behavior. The years of zero to three can be a time of great opportunity – or a missed chance to give a person their best chance at life.

Between children born into families with differing levels of income and education, vocabulary disparities begin to appear before a child is two years old. Studies show children with access to early childhood education are more successful adults. For the public, education during early childhood development translates into reduced risk of developmental disabilities and need for special education, less dependence on welfare, decreased crime, and higher tax revenues as children become adults1.

According to UNICEF, investment in preschool and early childhood education yields higher returns than any other level of education, with the greatest impacts felt among poorer children2. Yet such programs receive only 2.5% of Tajikistan’s education budget, and only 8-10% of Tajik children attend preschool3.

The role or absence of education during a child’s early years determines much of their lifelong development – cognitive, emotional-social, and physical. In Tajikistan, a relatively young independent nation with a large youth population, the country’s future depends greatly on the development opportunities granted to its children. More than 800,000 Tajik children today are between the ages of zero and five years4 – that’s ten percent of the country’s total population. Despite a growing youth population, the number of preschools in the nation has been in decline since the 1990s. Without intervention, Tajikistan’s current generation of children will be less educated than their parents5.

A history of early childhood education in Tajikistan

access to educationIn 1991, Tajikistan gained independence from the Soviet Union and then entered into a six-year civil war. National instability and budget cuts made the government’s public outreach weak, especially within the country’s education system. During the Soviet Era, teachers went through continued professional development every three to five years, but after the collapse of that system, the newly-independent Tajik government had little budget to invest in the teachers or infrastructure of its educational system. Schools buildings suffered physical damage from violence, and a lack of budget for maintenance, and the country’s teachers had low numbers and insufficient training.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES), 18% of Tajikistan’s school structures pose immediate threats to student safety if a natural disaster – such as an earthquake, flood, or severe winter storm – were to occur6. Also, the lack of necessary school restrooms and sanitary facilities frequently discourage adolescent girls from attending school. Low teacher salaries make it difficult for schools to retain quality, motivated educators, and the motivated teachers are often left without access to updated resources which would allow them to teach curriculum effectively.

Much of Tajikistan has high infant and child mortality rates, widespread poverty, and a lack of parenting resources, including prenatal and natal health care. For those just trying to provide for and feed their family, and stay warm in the winter, the role education plays in early childhood development is just not a priority.

Despite its challenges, Tajikistan has been motivated to improve its educational systems. In fact, free, public education is guaranteed for all children, and compulsory under the constitution. After an initial slump post-Soviet collapse, the country has managed to increase net student enrollment in primary and secondary schooling in recent years. In 2012, the government began prioritized pre-primary, or early childhood, education as well. The Aga Khan Development Network and Ministry of Education in Tajikistan created curriculum and brick-and-mortar centers for early childhood development, yet its resources remained limited – classes were held only a few times per week, and student enrollment was maxed out. The children who were enrolled had incomplete educations, and many children were denied access to early childhood care entirely.

Partnering with the government on early childhood education

Understanding the government program meant well, but desperately needed support, Central Asia Institute in Tajikistan (CAIT) partnered with the Education Department of Gorno- Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), creating a program to increase training capacity and quality for teachers in early childhood education. The government’s kindergarten teacher training and resources were outdated, and years overdue for curricula refreshers.

With support from the Education Department of GBAO, Central Asia Institute implemented the Tajikistan Early Childhood Development Vocational Program, geared toward training GBAO kindergarten teachers in the latest early childhood development methodology.

Since 2012 CAIT has already conducted training for more than 134 teachers through our Tajikistan Early Childhood Development Vocational Program. The program’s primary goal is to expand teacher training, especially in remote areas. 110 kindergarten teachers and 24 kindergarten program directors have completed the program – 134 educators who now bring their experience and expertise to the young children of remote Tajikistan.

After the collapse of the Soviet government, schools in remote areas of Tajikistan suffered the most from low budgets and a lack of access to improved teaching methodology. As part of Central Asia Institute’s early childhood development training programs, we work to reach all teachers with the latest approaches to teaching. Our program brings teachers from isolated remote areas to the city, where they can gather together to learn and exchange experiences with other teachers. Teacher training in early childhood development strengthens the quality of Tajikistan’s teaching and learning environments.

The future of education for childhood development in Tajikistan

In 2019, Central Asia Institute is working to complete a much-needed gym and kitchen reconstruction in an ECD school in Khorog. When complete, this model will be used for other kindergartens across the region and the country..

Central Asia Institute works hard to provide quality training for teachers, especially in Tajikistan’s remote districts. We understand the need to invest in children at a very young age, through early childhood education which contributes to their best chance at a successful life. Central Asia Institute in Tajikistan believes in the importance of providing education which supports ECD especially to the disadvantaged – girls, the very poor, and those from geographically remote areas.

With your support, we can impact the lives of thousands of aspiring teachers, countless young children, and the future of Tajikistan.

1: Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, “Five Numbers to Remember about Early Childhood Development,” https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/five-numbers-to-remember-about-early-childhood-development/

2: United Nations Children’s Fund, “Early Childhood Education December 2017,” https://data.unicef.org/topic/early-childhood-development/early-childhood-education/#_ftn1

3: United Nations Children’s Fund, “Tajikistan Overview,”

 https://www.unicef.org/tajikistan/overview_27465.html

4: United Nations Children’s Fund,  “Tajikistan: The Children,”

https://www.unicef.org/tajikistan/children.html

5: United Nations Children’s Fund, “Tajikistan: The Children”

 https://www.unicef.org/tajikistan/children_4483.html

Advantages of Education for Kids in the Developing Country of Afghanistan

The education of children and women in Afghanistan is an emotional cause, with humanitarian urgency. But if you follow the numbers, it’s easy to see a ripple effect that impacts the entire nation – educating kids has advantages for the whole country.

Beginning at birth: Afghan children live longer when girls receive an education

The highest infant mortality rate in the world: for years, Afghanistan held that tragic distinction. The prevalence of conflict, widespread poverty, limited access to health services, and a lack of access to the schooling and cultural rights over decades compounded, resulting in devastating infant mortality statistics. In the year 2000, the Taliban had been in power for four years, and almost 100 out of every 1,000 babies1 born in Afghanistan did not live to see their first birthday. And the children who survived infancy were faced with very limited access to education.

But with the past decade and a half, under democratic rule, the infant mortality rate has been improving dramatically. Ferozuddin Feroz, Afghan minister of public health, said2 one of the difference-makers has been a nation-wide focus on recruiting, training, and deploying thousands of community midwives to rural areas, places with limited access to hospitals of doctors. As of 2002, only 400 such midwives existed. As of 2016, that number was over 5,000.

When girls and women have access to education, they gain more sovereignty over their own reproductive healthcare. This, in turns, has a significant positive impact on the health and longevity of their children – of Afghanistan’s children.

Taliban or poverty: the unspoken problem of the youth bulge in Afghanistan   

As NATO troops pulled out of the country and the inflow of foreign money began to shrink, Afghanistan’s economy went into decline – and with it, the job prospects of millions of young people. Afghanistan in 2019 is in the midst of a “youth bulge”–currently, 68% of the country is under the age of 253, and the population is expected to reach 50 million people by 2030. This nation of young people is struggling to access education, and the career opportunities that come with that education often lie just out of reach. As they struggle to find jobs, Afghanistan’s youth population is at risk of being taken advantage of by the Taliban and other extremist groups.

A commonly misunderstood fact is that often, youth do not wish to join the Taliban – they do not do so out of philosophical or religious regions, or because they agree with its radical cultural values. Many times, young Afghans join the Taliban simply because it is the better option to unemployment, or living on the streets. As Al Jazeera describes4, the Taliban often offer twice the monthly salary of the Afghan army, and even pay young men with gold to join their ranks.

As a last-ditch effort to find work, hundreds of thousands of young people are emigrating to other countries – in the first half of 2015 alone, 80,000 Afghans applied for asylum5 in Europe.

educating boysAs the youth in Afghanistan increase in number, the life-and-death nature of getting an education sharpens in focus and urgency. And sadly, the hopes and dreams, fears and aspirations of Afghan youth often get lost in the oversimplified narratives coming from most TV coverage. Especially in the western world, it is common to hear only of violence, migrants, and religious rule. By telling the stories of individuals and unique communities, Central Asia Institute hopes to share the deep humanity of the Afghan children’s plight. Backed by critical data, these stories also show the impact education has on national stability.

The advantages of education for the country’s children include opportunities to step out of poverty, open businesses, grow the country’s economy, find alternatives to joining extremist groups, and make the country and its population safer and more prosperous overall.

Schools also provide a safe haven for impoverished children. Especially in rural communities, where access to clean water and sanitation is sometimes a luxury not afforded many neighborhoods, attending a school in which clean water, reliable heat, and a safe bathroom are part of the facilities makes a big difference in kids’ quality of life. And when those schools also offer the safety of a protective boundary wall, the hours a child spends in attendance can provide health and safety benefits as well as mental ones.

A thriving country begins with educated children

Worldwide, more than 170 million people could climb out of poverty6, if every child from developing countries learned at least basic reading skills before leaving school. Imagine the exponential increase in benefits if those children also learned a trade, or math skills, or the basics of starting a business. According to UNESCO7, an extra year of school can increase someone’s income by 10%. For girls, that extra year of education also decreases a woman’s chance of becoming a young mother by 7.4%.

The Afghan economy is not keeping pace with its children coming-of-age and entering the labor market. With reports8 of only 49% of males and 18% of females able to read and write, and 35%-40% unemployment rates, the success or failure of the nation’s future rests on the education of its youth.

In more developed countries, the benefits of educating children include improved social skills and attention spans – in Afghanistan, and education can mean the difference between finding a job and being forced by unemployment to join the Taliban. Access to education means girls are healthier, live longer, and are less likely to be forced into early marriage. And building safe schools in rural areas means the forgotten youth of the high mountains and lonely deserts have a way out of poverty, into hope.

By joining Central Asia Institute as we support the education of kids in Afghanistan, you give young people the chance to shape their country for the better. Help us educate children who will change the world. Join the girls’ education movement. Sign up for our newsletter today.

1: http://www.bing.com/search?q=United+Nations+World+Population+Prospects%3A+the+2015+Revision&src=IE-TopResult&FORM=IETR02&conversationid=

2: https://www.stripes.com/afghan-babies-have-been-dying-in-huge-numbers-but-now-something-is-changing-1.416084

3: https://asiafoundation.org/2014/11/19/the-need-for-evidence-based-narratives-around-afghanistans-youth/

4: https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/inthefield/2016/01/taliban-offer-gold-afghan-youth-crisis-160115133950196.html

5: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/new-wave-emigration-from-afghanistan

6: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2015-05-19/remarks-world-education-forum-sustainable-development-goals-and

7: https://www.legit.ng/1138146-benefits-education-developing-countries.html

8: https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/17/i-wont-be-doctor-and-one-day-youll-be-sick/girls-access-education-afghanistan#

See the School You Built

In the spring, we asked for your help to build a new primary school in Pish, Tajikistan. The existing school was built years ago without any input from engineers or professional builders. As a result, the structure was falling apart. It didn’t have a proper roof or floor, which made it usable only in the summertime (and the summertime in remote Tajikistan is very short). Even then, the condition of the building made attending class dangerous.

With your help, we were able to raise the necessary funds to start construction in May 2018 and the new school was finished that winter. Here’s a look at the construction, start to finish.

Thank you for giving these children a great place to learn!

Gender Equality in Afghan Education: Building a new start for a nation in turmoil

We want the education by which character is formed, the strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s own feet.

– Swami Vivekananda

At first glance, Afghanistan’s education system is struggling. The country has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, with current estimates of less than one-third of adults able to read and write. For women, the numbers are even bleaker: an average of just 17% of women are literate, compared to 45% of men.

On paper, gender equality in Afghanistan is moot; legally, Afghan women have legal freedoms equal to men. But cultural expectations and conservative religious norms prevent many women from exercising those rights. Achieving gender equality in education, in particular, is hampered by the country’s security issues and lack of school infrastructure, funding, and resources. Today, only a third of Afghan girls attend school.

Seventeen years after the Taliban government was ousted from power, the country has not yet found its footing. The educational system, still reeling from a five-year period during which nearly all female education was prohibited – a true low for gender equality – has yet to reestablish large-scale education for the female half of its student population.  The two largest roadblocks have been overcoming poverty in the war-torn region, and the task of helping girls and women who had been kept out of schools during Taliban rule catch up on years of missed studies.

But great progress has been made since the 2001 transition of power. At the time, fewer than 900,000 children attended school, most of them boys; today, that number has increased to nearly nine million children, with Afghan girls making up nearly half the total number.

Why girls and boys aren’t equally educated

The fact that gender inequality in Afghan schools still exists has a number of influences. Women are expected to marry early, have children, and stay at home. Security issues often create problems in traveling to and from school. In the capital city of Kabul, literacy rates are the highest in the nation for both genders; 68% for men, 34.7% for women. In more remote provinces, gender and geographical divides emerge; in Helmand province, the male literacy rate is 41% while the female rate drops as low as 1.6%.

Across the country, a lack of infrastructure is evident, as nearly half of all schools in Afghanistan do not have buildings. Classes are often held in temporary spaces, in tents, or outdoors. In a region subject to frequent violence, this is an unacceptably dangerous environment for young students. In addition to unsafe conditions, a lack of dedicated school buildings means students do not have access to bathroom facilities. For young girls, not being able to use the restroom and wash up in privacy is a source of cultural shame so strong that many girls end their schooling entirely upon reaching puberty.

Safe schools empower gender equality in education

When a safe, new school facility is built in an Afghan town, it truly changes the lives of those who live, work, and learn in the area. Providing access to private, sanitary restrooms, at schools within walking distance of their homes – an issue which seems so simple , yet holds the future hostage for so many – opens the door for thousands of girls to finally attend school. Young girls and women, empowered to start businesses, find jobs, and support themselves and their families financially for the first time, are bringing their voices to the decision-making table in powerful ways.

Central Asia Institute has helped build nearly 200 schools, each carrying with it a promise to help the community it serves. Each one of these schools has involved local support from the planning stage all the way to long-term sustainability, and from each school emerges young women who will grow up to pursue their dreams. Your support for CAI has a great impact on gender equality in the remote villages of Afghanistan, and the country’s future.

Improving Girls’ Education in Developing Countries: Creating a Better Future, One Life at a Time

The plight of uneducated women in developing countries has thousands of faces. But with so many people in need, those unique stories are often overwhelmed by reports and statistics. In countries with war-torn histories, economic instabilities, widespread poverty, geographical remoteness, and lack of infrastructure, it’s all too common for the struggles of daily life to overshadow the importance of education. Central Asia Institute believes that shifting the course of a nation’s future begins with changing the individual lives of the girls and women who call it home. Such change has the greatest impact in the form of education.

“Women share this planet 50/50 and they are underrepresented—their potential astonishingly untapped.” – Emma Watson

An educated female population is more than just a moral imperative and social right. For developing countries, improving girls’ education promotes contributes to the productiveness of the workforce and the health of the nation. Investment in educational gender equality — from both developing nations and NGOs – decreases national poverty in the long run. Women’s literacy, and subsequent participation in leadership and decision-making in their communities, is truly at the foundation of stable, democratic societies.

But in developing countries, where keeping the day-to-day peace and providing basic food, water, and shelter often require the bulk of available resources, what is CAI doing to improve girls’ educational opportunities? Our organization starts by identifying the areas of greatest need.

Changing the future starts with understanding the need

In Tajikistan, a country still finding its footing after gaining independence from the Soviet Union and surviving a six-year civil war, school infrastructure has not been the most pressing priority in recent years. Tajikistan’s Ministry of Education and Science estimates that 18% of the nation’s schools would pose an immediate threat to student safety in the event of a natural disaster, and 30% of schools need major rehabilitation work, including roofing, lighting, and heating. These poor conditions have negative impacts on student health and contribute to low student attendance during winter months.

Most pressing for female students, especially adolescent girls, is the widespread absence of basic sanitation and washing facilities. In a UNICEF study of girls who had dropped out of school or were at-risk of doing so, 18% of interviewees said they had missed school because of inadequate sanitation facilities.

The struggles of Tajiki schools are further compounded by a lack of human resources and qualified teachers. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly-independent government had no budget to finance teacher training programs, and teachers in remote areas were especially underserved. In all communities, low teacher salaries and insufficient resources have made it difficult for schools to attract and retain well-trained and motivated teachers.

Thanks to the support of our generous donors and in-country partners, Central Asia Institute is making a difference in girls’ education in developing countries like Tajikistan.

Recent Successes in Improving Girls’ Education

Since 2012, CAI has built four new schools in remote regions of Tajikistan. These schools are safe, warm, well-lit, and sanitary learning environments for both girls and boys.

In addition to new school facilities, we have also helped communities revolutionize their teacher training programs. CAI is leading initiatives to deepen teachers’ understanding of subject matter, develop their utilization of technology and other information resources, and increase the numbers of students they can teach. Since 2014, CAI has trained nearly 200 teachers in the subjects of English, Russian, computer science, math, physics, and chemistry.

Our Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs in developing countries are designed to bring important developmental support to young children in need; early childhood is widely understood to be the most critical time of brain growth, with great impacts on a person’s future health and success. CAI, in partnership with the Education Department of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), created a training course which has now certified over 150 kindergarten teachers.

Poverty is a common barrier to girls’ education in developing countries, so CAI is working to change that one life at a time. By funding the primary, secondary, and vocational educations of Tajiki girls and women, we empower motivated individuals to find more secure financial footing. For some, an education provides the only chance to avoid early marriage. For others, a dream of teaching, entrepreneurship, or government work is finally within reach.

Through funding and facilitating school construction, teacher training, and scholarships, we are improving girls’ education in disadvantaged communities. Our work in the developing countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan improves lives, builds stronger communities, and facilitates lasting peace.

Girls’ Access to Education: Bringing the First Schools to Remote Villages

Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates and the second-largest out-of-school population worldwide. The greatest impacts of those missed educational opportunities are felt by Pakistan’s girls and women — especially in outlying, mountainous areas of the country. Widespread poverty, early marriage norms, and a lack of safe or accessible school infrastructure create stark inequalities in girls’ access to education; in rural Balochistan, for example, the female literacy rate is a shocking 2%.

Instabilities in Pakistan’s social and political landscapes pull limited government resources away from areas like education. Over the past decade and a half, the government has worked with its finite resources to increase all children’s access to free, standardized, compulsory education. But with national volatility and the current decentralized nature of the government, educational policies and opportunities vary widely between districts. Eventually, high-quality public schools across the country are the hope for a better, more secure future. In the meantime, private religious education and other privatized schools attempt to fill the gap.

The ripple effects of girls’ access to education

Central Asia Institute recognizes that educating women and girls has a ripple effect on the communities, economies, and future opportunities of developing nations. Educational opportunities for individuals eventually lead to better standards of living for all. Of course, there are strong moral reasons for the importance of increasing girls’ access to education. In addition, there are clear tangible imperatives: every 1 percent increase in female education creates a .3 percent increase in economic growth. For Pakistan, where regional conflicts have stemmed from socioeconomic exclusion, those numbers add up with great significance.

Planting a Seed For Future Generations

In the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, Central Asia Institute has had “boots on the ground” for more than twenty years. In 1998, a local businessman named Saidullah Baig discovered the vision of CAI. He felt inspired to improve girls’ access to education in his hometown and the valley of Chapursun, near the border with China. The following year, Mr. Baig helped CAI install a well, which he calls “the first seed of CAI in Chapursun; a seed which has become a fruitful tree, for thousands of people in over seven districts of Gilgit-Baltistan.”

Central Asia Institute has long understood that safe learning conditions are often the most pressing aspect of increasing schooling access. But in remote, economically-starved villages, building well-equipped, free-standing schools can carry prohibitive costs. Mr. Saidullah Baig, who spent years his childhood walking 4-5 hours a day in order to attend school, is no stranger to the hardships of the difficulties of pursuing an education in remote Pakistan. And moved by his own childhood experiences, Mr. Baig is working to provide a new, innovative solution.

The Darel Homeschool Project

In the beautiful valley of Darel, which winds through the epic Hindu Kush mountains, Saidullah Baig has been planting homeschools. Darel, in the Daimer District, has a female education rate of just 5-10%. The result of the concerted efforts of Saidullah, local religious leaders, government officials, and with funding from Central Asia Institute, six homeschools have been opened in just two years; two for each of the three Darel Valley tribes. With continued support from CAI donors, the Darel Valley homeschool program hopes to expand, planting homeschools in more villages, and eventually converting them to traditional schools where girls’ access to education will be guaranteed for years to come.

Great demand exists for this innovative program. With a population of nearly 70,000, the Darel valley needs 50-70 homeschools to serve its entire population of school-aged children. CAI is pioneering female education in this remote and conservative area and bringing much-needed opportunities to thousands of people, girls and boys alike.

In Saidullah’s words, “After I closed my business to focus on CAI full time, we were able to make big impacts on remote Pakistani villages thanks to the organization’s support. In 2009, we brought schools to the Ghizar District, the most remote area in the country. In 2011, CAI brought educational opportunities to the Broghil Valley of the Chitral District, where before, no formal school existed, not even for boys. In Darel, where girls’ literacy and access to schooling is very low, one of our biggest challenges was finding educated female teachers. In the summer of 2019, CAI will fund the training of three women, all future Darel teachers, in the city of Gilgit, inshahallah (God willing). Over the years, CAI has expanded its educational reach from just one district to seven (District Hunza, District Nagar, District Gilgit, District Astore, District Diamer, and District Chitral). Today, we have over 100 projects serving thousands of previously-ignored people in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. I’m proud to look back at the past twenty years and see the differences we’ve made in improving girls’ access to education in Pakistan.”

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