Afghans and Americans agree that education is the key to making long-term improvements in Afghanistan. Afghans want better schools and a broader education for their children and are willing to take personal risks to educate their daughters. We support these families by making certain they have teachers, books, school supplies, and a place to learn. These families and educators are on the front line of the ideological and theological wars being waged in their country. We’re lucky. We’re part of the supply line, operating thousands of miles from the front. We are out of harm’s way, at least for now.
From the beginning, our primary emphasis has been education. In 2003, Trust in Education financed the construction of a school in the village of Lalander for 120 children, forty of whom were girls. By 2010, Trust in Education funded classes taught by 25 teachers in 10 villages, attended by more than 500 boys and 750 girls. A school for another 350 girls is under construction, and we will add more classes as funding permits.
Many children have not had access to education for the past three decades, creating an adult literacy rate of less than 30%. Since the Taliban forbade girls’ education, the female literacy rate is about 10%. For many boys, the only accessible schools have been and still are, in some areas, “madrassas,” which teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam. These madrassas are not focused on scholarship. They have only one book, the Koran, and many madrassas are training grounds for young militants who can be called upon to wage war on “non-believers.” It is extremely important for the world to understand that there is a war being waged for the hearts and minds of young Muslim boys.
Since our model is for each village to prioritize its own needs, our educational programs vary slightly from village to village. We learn and apply what works best and search constantly for ways to improve our programs.
(Lalander, Dahdana, Waisal Abad, Asyab Khushk, Qallah Safid, Tangi Saidan, Qallah Loqman, Reshkhor)
In eight villages, Trust in Education provides classes that enhance the government schools’ programs. (See Expanding Our Classes) Due to overcrowding, Afghan schools often can only educate students for three to four hours a day. They come to school in shifts. Trust in Education provides additional afterschool classes in math, science, and literacy. English and computer classes (See Computer Classes) are also popular as the villagers see them as a vehicle to help their children participate in the modern world. Art classes are provided as a source of fun and creative expression for the children. Some of these after school classes are taught in homes. Home-based classes are a direct response to threats posed by the Taliban. Since they are taught inside homes, they are safer for girls to attend.
Occasionally the schools have small needs that TIE can help with. When the pump at the well for Qallah Loqman’s school was broken, for example, TIE funded the repairs within 2 weeks for $305. That is one advantage of a grassroots organization—the ability to respond immediately to solve problems.
Community Learning Centers
(Qallah Asfand Yar and Qallah Khawaja Noor)
In two villages, we agreed to provide the materials needed to construct community learning centers. (See Building Community Learning Centers) These centers started as in-home programs, before their popularity rendered the homes too small to meet demand. Because villagers built them and they are on private property, they “own” them—they protect them and do not tolerate individuals who might pose a threat to the center, the teachers or the students. Children, particularly girls, who may be prohibited from attending government schools by their families, are allowed to take classes in these centers. The centers also make it possible to offer opportunities not available in the schools, such as computer classes, adult education classes, art and supplementary classes in English.
Trust in Education pays the teachers, (See Lessons From Our Teachers) provides supplies to the children, and pays for heat in the winter. They operate all year, giving many children a chance to catch up with and move ahead of their peers. We have also paid for the cost of adding and repairing wells, thereby providing the students with a safe, reliable source of drinking water.
Since most students have no access to books, Trust in Education has paid for the cost of adding bookshelves to the community learning centers. The bookshelves make it possible for the learning centers to serve as community libraries.
The community libraries each now have a librarian and 500 books, selected by the teachers. Education now reaches beyond the classrooms and into homes. Even if they may not be able to travel, their minds can.
Accelerated Education Programs have been created to help older girls who were not able to attend school when they were young. In these programs, girls attend school year-round in order to catch up to their peers and be ready to enter formal schooling at the end of the program. Without these types of programs, many girls would likely age out of the system and completely lose the opportunity to attend school.
In February 2010, Trust in Education was asked to take over the financial support of an accelerated education program for 120 girls in Parwan. Eighty of them were two years into the program and were one year away from being “aged out.” If the program had not found the funding, the 80 girls would have become too old to attend school. All 80 completed the training and were able to attend school in the spring of 2011. The remaining 40 will complete the program in 2011 and enter school in 2012.
In Farza, Trust in Education is funding the construction of a school for 350 girls, which is being built by the villagers with 100% volunteer help. (See The creation of Zohra’s School) It is Trust in Education’s largest project to date, with ten classrooms, a playground and a separate bathroom. Their wish list includes a well, desks, library, playground equipment, and computer and art classes. Since it will be a government school, the other costs of operating the school will be paid by the Ministry of Education. The driving force behind the school is Zohra Aziz, an Afghan-American woman who was born in Farza. She is now an inspirational role model for girls living in Farza, as a college-educated, self -supporting professional woman, who made “their school” possible.
One way we enhance education is to sponsor fun motivational contests for the children. We sponsored an art contest in April 2010, though security concerns cancelled the awards party. Thankfully, TIE’s First Annual Spelling Bee in October 2010 had plenty of attendees. (See Spelling Bee!) With three levels (grades 4-5, 6-7, 8-9), 48 participants from three villages took part in the Bee. They could miss two words before being eliminated, and they had some nonverbal coaching along the way, so it took four and one half hours to complete all three levels. The winners were thrilled to receive backpacks, cash and flashlights as their prizes. The second annual Bee will take place in the fall of 2011.
Our writing contest was inspired by a wonderful poem that one of the TIE students shared with us. The teachers thought a writing contest would be a great way to motivate the students to work on their creative writing. Unfortunately, several students copied and turned in poems written by famous poets, and some submitted works written by others. They now know that they must submit original works. What we thought should have been obvious to them and their teachers, wasn’t. We’re learning right along with them.
For links to more stories about our school programs:
- Computer Classes
- Expanding our classes
- Lessons from our teachers
- Building community learning centers
- Spelling Bee!
- The creation of Zohra’s school