For many in Central Asia, education takes place outdoors. Without classrooms or school buildings, students sit in chairs or on a carpet. If there is enough money, the school can buy a tent to keep rain and wind from stopping a lesson.
With little else to distinguish where a school property begins or ends, strangers can wander right onto the property or lurk at its borders. If that sounds concerning to you, it is as well for parents. Too often, that danger results in children kept at home, away from a threat of kidnapping or abuse. In conservative communities, where many still disapprove of girls’ education, parents and students also worry about being seen at school by random passerby.
In Afghanistan, our partner organization Star of Knowledge estimates that 50 percent of school-age girls are kept home from schools without a boundary wall. Since you can’t have a school without students, they and CAI’s other local partners prioritize constructing the boundary walls needed to keep students safe and allow girls to begin attending class.
On April 11, schools were attacked in Logar and Nangarhar provinces. The girls’ high school in Logar was set on fire, and labs at the school in Nangarhar were destroyed. Thankfully, the schools that CAI supports were not included in this attack. However, Star of Knowledge senior education officer Asadullah Azimi states that “teachers and school administrators were terrified; students were not sure what would happen to them.”
According to a Voice of America article published last year, across Nangarhar province, “increasing security threats have kept girls out of schools in many areas where educational institutions have been a soft target of terrorist groups. IS militants, who are active in several districts of Nangarhar, have shuttered classrooms, particularly for girls, in areas under their control.” Azimi tells us a
“lack of boundary walls definitely makes it easy for attackers to confidently carry out their job, because there is no single gate to enter through, nor is there anything to stop them.”
We and our partners take these threats, and the accompanying need for new construction seriously. Recently, here’s some of the work we’ve done to build new boundary walls and install security gates to keep children secure and reassure their families that it’s safe to attend school.
Plaster for the boundary wall at the Farza Primary School, 15 miles from Kabul.
Bringing the new security gate to Lukhai Primary School, on the outskirts of Jalalabad.
Installing the gate.
CAI’s partner Star of Knowledge finished painting the Najam-ul-Jihad school’s boundary wall with bright and inviting colors before the Spring semester began.
The new security gate for the Murad Khwaja Primary School in Kapisa province.
Your support for boundary wall construction is critical for girls and boys to attend school. This Spring, CAI is running a campaign to build and install the most necessary elements of school: boundary wall construction, building new classrooms to fit growing village populations, and installing modern, secure, and hygienic toilets. Read more about these projects here, or read about them in our Footsteps publication here.
My name is Murzia and I am a student at Ghazi High School in Kabul. I was born in 1998 in Jalozai refugee camp, Pakistan, where my father lived for 18 years.
When we have returned to our beloved country Afghanistan, I was 5 years old. We lived in our village, Loman, for three years where I started going to school, then we moved to Kabul and now I am in grade 8 at Ghazi High School.
I love my school and teachers. My favorite teacher is Tooba Kakar. She is 43 and she has a son and a daughter. She graduated from Teacher Training College. She has good behavior and is very kind and tries to understand all students fairly; however it is very difficult for a mother to have young children and job.
I was born in low-class family, so I proud that my father is educated and loves education. But my mother is uneducated. When I have known as a girl about my family and tribe, there was no chance for girls to get education, so I was disappointed about my life that I thought my family would not let me to go to school as well.
But I was wrong. My father was not like our relatives and tribes. He let me and my other two sisters and four brothers to go school to get education. So I am very lucky. My father receives threats from our close relatives and Taliban because of supporting girls’ education, but he ignores them all.
My dream is to become a journalist to help Afghan poor people and raise the voice of Afghan women in the world.
*Details have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.
CAI HERO: Drukhshan
by Karin Ronnow
Some children are just born learners. They dive into their studies with excitement and determination. They glom onto every bit of knowledge that comes their way. And they dream big.
“Mathematics is my favorite, I think it is like a game,” said Drukhshan, a 12th grader at Ishkashim Girls’ Higher Secondary School in Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan province. “When we solve a question it’s so interesting.”
The 17-year-old is one of the top students in her class. She dreams of going on to university, studying medicine, becoming a doctor, giving back to her community, and seeing the world.
“It’s important for every person to be educated,” she said. “For example, if you are not educated you must stay at home and just do chores and that is so boring. If you are educated you can travel, communicate with different people all over the world.”
Communication is important to her, and she works hard at it. Although she’s not as fond of English as she is of math, her spoken English and comprehension exceeds that of most of her classmates. She accomplished that, she said, with the help of additional courses.
“We study English in school, but there we only read and write it, we don’t speak it,” she said. “So I took classes after school. We all know that English is an international language and we should learn it. I’d like to learn all the languages of the world.”
But she knows not everyone shares her enthusiasm.
Enrollment at her school, housed in two buildings erected by Central Asia Institute in 2008 and 2009, is 1,005, said Headmaster Atah Baik. But when he reviewed the attendance sheets and accounted for the girls who have quit (but remain on the enrollment list – a common practice in Afghanistan), the number of students drops to 835.
That doesn’t surprise Drukhshan. “There are many people here who don’t let their daughters go to school, or they let them but they don’t try to understand the value of education,” she said.
“The girls say they don’t have any interest in education because their parents don’t have any interest. They are like people who live in the 18th century. So the girls just come and go and don’t study. They will just finish school and get married.
“I like to learn in a competitive environment, but when I see my classmates not caring and so bored, then that drives me crazy,” she said. “I feel very frustrated. Sometimes I talk to them and say, ‘Even if you are not responsible for yourself or your future, what will you say to your children? You are going to be a mother. At least you can improve the lives of your children so that they can be future leaders of Afghanistan.’”
Drukhshan learned that lesson at home. She comes from a relatively small family of three children. Her father works for the Aga Khan Foundation. Her mother is a housewife.
Drukhshan was born in 1997, when the Taliban controlled the government in Afghanistan. “My mother said it was a terrible time,” she said. “We went to Pakistan when I was 1½ years old, to Karachi. I completed nursery school there. When I came back, I was about 6 years old.”
Her mother, who has a basic education, said she has always emphasized education for her children. “But I especially wanted my daughters to be educated—even more than other kids.”
Drukhshan’s sister, Aalam Gul, studies politics and sociology at university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, with help from a George Soros Foundation scholarship. She, too, is bright and well spoken. When asked what she’d like to do with her degree once she finishes university, she said: “Fight for women. This is the only thing to say. Because nothing has been done for women, especially in this environment.”
Why? “Because they don’t fight, they don’t have opportunities. I don’t mean literally ‘fight.’
I mean they need more attention. When you see women in Afghanistan you feel very sad for them and for yourself. The situation here is miserable and we do not have a voice, we are not listened to.”
Drukhshan said that in addition to a love of learning, her parents instilled a desire to serve in all their children.
“My mother really wants me to serve the people,” she said. “One should do this because everyone has a need.
[CAI] serves us by making the school. I should serve by helping the people improve themselves.”
To that end, she hopes to become a doctor. “I want to go to medical university. If I don’t get accepted, then I’m going to study economics,” she said. “But I really want to be a doctor, because being a doctor is very helpful to people who can’t treat their sickness. I want to work in Ishkashim or even in Pamir. I want to have a foundation so I can treat people without any fees. I am going to be there in future. I am.”
She faces hurdles. “There is no scholarship for medical studies in Afghanistan,” she said. And even now she’s not a big fan of homework, which she will be doing for another decade if she gets into medical school.
“I hate homework. It’s the hardest thing,” she said, laughing. “Writing in notebooks is really boring—except for math.”
But she’s determined. She will finish school in December and take university entrance exams in January, she said. If she can get a scholarship and study abroad, she’d love to go that route. “If not, I will continue my education inside the country.”
She said education is key to her future and that of her community. “We are in a very poor community. My community people need help, and for myself, I also need help. I don’t want to be like this anymore. If I have education then I will have my own money and will not be costing everyone else. I want to get educated and be responsible for it.
“Also we know that differences between educated and uneducated persons are many.
Education is the best way to meet new people, travel to other countries and learn about the world and the beauty of life,” she said. She’s on her way.
BAZGHIR, Afghanistan — “Open Your Books” says the Afghan Ministry of Education poster outside the seventh-grade classroom at Bazghir High School in northeastern Badakhshan province.
Encouragement is key to keeping these kids in school. They face lots of obstacles.
The first daily obstacle is distance. Some of these students must walk four hours each day just to attend the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported school, Headmaster Alam Gul said.
“The school serves four villages and one is a two-hour walk each way,” Gul, 28, said. “It’s a small village. Fifteen students come from there. Mostly they are the younger kids. The older ones go to Zebak School,” he said, referring to another CAI-supported school in a neighboring district. “That’s farther away, but the older students, they can walk further.”
The school is in Ishkashim district of Badakhshan Province, one of the most impoverished places in the world. It sits in a river valley, surrounded by the peaks of the Hindu Kush Mountains.
“Sometimes in summer when water is coming from the mountains, they all have to go to school in Zebak” because they can’t cross the river to get to Bazghir,” he added.
Another issue is the extremists, the local and foreign Taliban forces fighting for control in nearby Warduj district, about a two-hour drive southwest of here.
“We feel the pressure,” Gul said. “Girls still come, but they come to school scared. Sometimes girls are afraid to walk the road to come to school. And we worry Taliban might come here and then they won’t let kids come and study or people come and teach. Especially girls will just get deprived.”
A third obstacle is teachers. One morning, three of the teachers were late, so the kids sat in their classrooms without teachers, some of them diligently studying, others goofing around. Other teachers stepped into the rooms periodically to try to maintain order, but they had their own classrooms to attend to and couldn’t stay for long.
The second-grade classroom had been without a teacher for eight days in a row. Gul said, “This is a problem.” He has discussed the absenteeism with education department officials, but the government refuses to fire or replace the teacher.
Eventually it was revealed that the teacher is an opium addict.
CAI helped the community build a new school in 2010. The old school building is in sorry shape – the walls are crumbling, the roof leaks, and the glass in several windows is broken. But rather than tear the old building down, the community opted to use it for higher classes, and teach the younger students in the new building.
The 407 students, including 151 girls, have 14 teachers. But enrollment has decreased by 93 students in the past two years. “Most drop out due to poverty,” Gul said. “Also, some got married.”
The girls in the higher classes typically sit in the back of the classroom. “We encourage them a lot to come to the front [of the classroom] near the teacher by themselves, but they feel shy,” said Arabic teacher Abdul Ghafoor.
Keeping those girls enrolled until they complete high school is key.
Roqya, 14, is the middle child of five siblings. Her father is uneducated, “he is a farmer,” she said. Her mother is a literacy teacher who is unemployed. She is determined to finish high school, even though her sisters did not.
“My older sister married while in class 11 and quit school,” she said. “My second sister went to class seven and then married. I have brothers in class 10 and three. We all know education makes us bright and open-minded and with education you can get any job you want.”
She’d like to be an eye doctor, she said.
The students and their families understand the importance of education. Just learning how to read and write has put many of the students light-years ahead of their illiterate parents.
“My parents are supportive,” Razia, 14, said. “They say, ‘We didn’t study and now we have nothing and we didn’t make a good life and now you have to study.’ Education is important to learn something.”
The students’ post-high school options may be limited – few can afford higher education. Last year, only one of the 19 graduates was able to attend university. But if they pass the test, they may be able to enroll in one of the teacher-training or vocational-skills colleges closer to home; five graduates were able to do that last year.
But that does not dissuade them from dreaming big. Fida Jan, the No. 2 student in class nine, wants to be a doctor.
“If you don’t have education, you are nothing. If you do have education, you will at least get to be a teacher or doctor or something,” he said.
His classmate, 14-year-old Zahir, said education is also important “because nobody will make fun of us. We will be able to feed ourselves and get money.”
And Dur Mohammad is determined to finish school and become an engineer.
“When you become educated, you will do service,” he said. “You can make roads and bridges for the people and help when there are landslides. My home is in area where there are always floods and landslides and this I want to change.”
Before he loses his audience, Dur Mohammad makes a request. He and his classmates would like a computer lab, he said.
The headmaster smiled. The school has no electricity. Besides, he said, the more urgent need is reliable teachers.
– Karin Ronnow, communications director
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