Rubble at the Saw schoolVillage still reeling after girls’ school bombed

Two weeks before the start of the new school year, leaders in Afghanistan’s volatile Saw village say they are understandably cautious about immediately reopening the Central Asia Institute-supported girls’ school bombed earlier this month by non-local militants.

About 20 percent of the 10-room school in eastern Kunar province, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, was destroyed in the Feb. 6 explosion, witnesses told CAI.

Saw School’s, headmaster of the bombed school, said some classes could be held discretely elsewhere in the village, or in tents, but only if the community has assurances that the children will be safe.

“The community would like the school to open as scheduled on 9 March, but there are concerns if it will increase

[foreign militants’] attacks on the village, and if Afghan Army and police are capable of protecting the school,” said an official who requested anonymity due to safety concerns.

“The situation here now is dangerous after the Peshawar [Pakistan] school attacks, as many Pakistani terrorists have sought refuge in Afghanistan border provinces,” the official said.

A classroom, office, storage room and toilet were destroyed when the bomb on the school’s lower level was detonated. Windows, furniture, and the building’s roof were also damaged.

Floor collapsed into a basement storeroom after an explosion

Foreign militants have been blamed for the attack. The local Afghan Taliban commander has repeatedly said that his fighters were not involved in the school bombing and apologized for the damage done to the school on his watch.

“It is very sad and painful, but we will never stop our hard working for education until end of life,” said CAI-Afghanistan Director Wakil Karimi.

Before deciding whether to reopen the school on time, the local shura (elders’ council) want to have jirgas (meetings) with government officials and local militants to determine the best course of action. The local leaders also want reassurance from the Taliban commanders that anyone involved in working on school repair will not be harmed, threatened, or subject to extortion.

Foreign Taliban still control the road to Saw and have threatened to kill local leaders and civilians if strangers come into the village, according to local officials. Just this past week, a woman and her child were shot and killed by a sniper as they walked a mountain trail toward the village.

Enrollment in the school last year had increased dramatically, with girls coming in two shifts: 253 in the morning, and 344 in the afternoon, Karimi said. That is up from 49 students when the community started holding classes a decade ago (before the school was built).

Brick pile from a collapsed wall

“This is deeply saddening for the people of Saw,” said Christopher Kolenda, CAI consultant who introduced Saw elders to CAI in 2007 while he was serving one of four tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. “When we first met together in 2007, the village elders asked nothing for themselves – all they wanted was assistance for their children’s education. This led to Central Asia Institute supporting a beautiful school for their girls and boys.

“I know how passionately they feel about education and how fiercely they have defended the school and their children’s rights and future from increasingly aggressive threats and attacks from Pakistani militants,” Kolenda said. “I have no doubt this despicable attack will only strengthen the determination of the people of Saw as they fight for the future of their children through education.”

Kunar provincial officials also reported that the roof of another CAI-supported school in nearby Shir Gal village was recently damaged in crossfire between the Afghan Army and Taliban fighters.

Foreign Taliban fighters periodically occupy school buildings in the winter months, when students and teachers are on winter break. The school year runs from March to December.

“We must teach our children to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons.” – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton

– Karin Ronnow, communications director