Afghan Children in School

COVID 19 and the Taliban Stop Education

As I look over the 2nd grade classroom I’m teaching today, I am reminded how lucky we are to be in America for the simple fact if the girls in class lived in Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan they would not be allowed to attend school.

In America, COVID 19 has kept children out of school in certain areas as we are risking everyone’s health. In Afghanistan, because of their beliefs, the Taliban will not hesitate to kill or maim girls being educated and the teachers who are teaching them. Both situations require parents to weigh the risks involved in sending their girls and children to school.

Under Taliban rule girls are not allowed to be educated over the age of 8. The Taliban have attacked girls going to school by throwing hand grenades into the schools or throwing acid in girl’s faces and even poisoning the water wells at the schools. In the eyes of the Taliban, a woman is an object they can control, and should girls get an education they will want rights as women and as human beings. This results in girls seeking an education by attending hidden underground schools, where they and their teachers know they risk EXECUTION if caught.

I spent 4 years as a contractor in Afghanistan helping to build separate girl and boy schools, living, eating and sleeping in remote areas under the constant threat of Taliban attacks, to make the school construction happen. Since many Afghan adults cannot read or write, they wanted the schools. As they explained to me, they understood the opportunities education opened up for their children. Working hand in hand with the workers gave me a whole new appreciation to the dedication of the Afghan people to complete these schools for their girls.

Afghan Teachers often find it difficult to provide quality education with the lack of supplies and resources, because they are hired with inadequate levels of training and education, and it pays very little. There are many complex factors making it more difficult for girls to get an education than one would think. Besides the obvious of Taliban attacks, I found there to be a lack of female teachers, especially in rural areas where women from one tribe do not want to teach a different tribe. Also, there’s a huge language barrier between the different tribes with two main languages of Dari and Pashto in Afghanistan. And even within the same language Afghans who speak Pashtun in Kabul told me they have difficulty understanding the Southern Pashtun language from the south of Kabul.

Afghan Girl in Red Dress

Since Afghanistan is a tribal society, there are also cultural differences. I like to compare these tribal conflicts similar to the tribal and cultural conflicts between the different American Indian tribes.

One huge problem is that many children have to work. Some boys I knew were the sole provider for their family’s income, working in the Bazaar or picking up garbage on bases. Girls typically make money by weaving or tailoring, or some sell items on the street. Also, many girls marry before the age of 15 and then discontinue their own education.

 

Another problem I discovered is that Afghan Schools have a lack of sanitation for girls, such as, no indoor running water or access to clean and safe restrooms. The schools have a separate brick Latrine building with no water and no toilets, just a hole in the floor. Some schools I built had no heat and none had indoor plumbing. Only the main school building would have minimal electricity for a few lights. There was generally a water well at the school, some only with a manual hand pump and a few with an electric well pump.

I was asked on an interview for a magazine about my thoughts on the Afghanistan War. My reply was and still is today, “The only way Afghanistan will survive is through education. We’re making a difference here by ensuring women in Afghanistan can get an education without worrying about interference from the Taliban”. Thankfully, in the larger cities like Kabul and Herat, girls are able to continue their education.

Young Afghan Boy and Girl

One of my favorite projects in Afghanistan was the Herat University Women’s dorm. There had to be a way that parents outside the city would feel comfortable in sending their daughters to college and know they would be safe. This newly constructed dormitory would be the solution to allow educational opportunities for women. Surrounded by a 15 foot rock wall with security guards at the entrance, the dormitory provided a secure refuge for female students to pursue college without fear of punishment from the Taliban. As with most projects of this type there were continuous hurdles to completing the project. Such as even the local police trying to shut down the construction for one reason or another, materials stolen, workers threatened, (therefore not showing up for work), and even armed attacks.

I felt fortunate being able to help out with the building of Girls and Boys schools in Afghanistan all the while amidst danger. The goal was to help create an educated population that can build better lives for the children of Afghanistan. My biggest challenge now is being able to relate these stories to American students in the hope they realize how lucky they are to live in America and welcomed to get an education. Just like I worked amidst Afghan danger to get the job done, now during COVID 19, I’m proud to stand alongside our teachers and staff to make sure education happens.

Afghan Girl and Boy on Road

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