Help The Afghan Children

Our mission is to help Afghan children become educated, healthy, and productive citizens who are able to fully contribute to building Afghanistan's civil society. We accomplish this by working with supporting partners to establish model community-based schools in different regions of Afghanistan; by providing training to local educators to enhance their professional capacities; and by developing and introducing innovative learning programs
Sep 29, 2014

Overcoming the odds; Nagina's story

Nagina
Nagina

Like many Afghan girls of her generation, Nagina has dreamed of a better life and that has long meant finding a school that offered computer education and one day, earning a degree in computer science so she can use her education and skills to seek a productive job and help her family.  But the reality of living with six other family members and little money ever available, there has been on-going pressure from Nagina's parents for her to leave school, find a suitable husband so the family can receive short-term financial gain from the husband's family.  Nagina has always managed to convince her mother and father that she should complete her schooling, but for years, becoming computer literate has always been out of reach.

In Afghanistan, finding a school that provides computer education can be very difficult, even though the Ministry of Education has deemed computer education a requirement for high school students.  Unfortunately, many schools simply do not have the financial resources to establish even the most basic computer laboratories, leaving far too many girls without opportunities.  In other cases, many schools who do have computers are private and the tuition costs are far out of reach for most families.  Even if they were able to afford the costs, getting to these schools can often require traveling through insecure areas; a situation few Afghan families would ever consider for their daughters.  These barriers, along with her family's economic difficulties, almost derailed Nagina's dream of completing her schooling and studying the computer.

Fortunately for Nagina, she found a school that offered computer education; one of several supported by Help the Afghan Children, which was the first organization to introduce computers into Afghan public schools, and here she has thrived.  Now in 12th grade, she has learned MS Windows, Word and Excel and before she graduates, Power point presentations.  Nagina is grateful that she (along with her other classmates), can learn lessons and complete assignments for other classes on the computer.  By teaching girls real world computer applications, HTAC is preparing graduating girls to seek and obtain jobs in Afghanistan's expanding IT marketplace.

While it's true that today, more Afghan girls do attend school, family and cultural pressures often result in too many girls never finishing their education, let along developing marketable skills.  HTAC is doing its part to give Nagina (who wants to serve her country), and several thousand girls like her every year, a chance to beat the odds.

  

Jul 30, 2014

Sister school exchanges bridge cultural barriers

cultural exchange Skype cast
cultural exchange Skype cast

Since 9/11, one of the greatest challenges facing the United States and Western countries has been trying to bridge the polarization between the Muslim and non-Muslim world.  In Afghanistan, the media has focused on the war between U.S./NATO forces (now being supplanted by Afghan fighters themselves), and the Taliban.  But behind the headlines, there is a furious psychological battle being waged on both sides to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population.  As one example, there are many Afghan youth as well as adults who view Western military forces as occupiers, rathe than liberators.  The sources behind such beliefs feed on the ignorance and fear of Afghans to build their case.

In place of ignorance and fear, one of the best non-violent weapons we have is building cultural bridges of respect and understanding between Afghanistan and the Western world.  Since 2005, HTAC's cultural exchange program brings together Afghan and Western students in creating, sharing and discussing meaningful and often life-changing projects and sharing their stories.  Bonds between students, teachers, and schools are created, perceptions are positively changed, and the seeds for future collaboration and peace are planted in this next generation of children from both sides of the world.

One such partnership has been between Sorya (girls) High School in Kabul, Afghanistan and Jerome Case High School in Racine, Wisconsin, USA.  The first exchange seemed benign (and safe) enough - sharing the geographical features and landmarks of their respective cities and nearby region.  But what shocked the girls at Sorya wasn't geography, but the photos of girls and boys at Case High School together in the same class.  In Afghanistan, boys and girls are segretated once they reach middle school.  The geography project soon became a fascinating back and forth discussion about the mixing of girls and boys.  The Afghan girls asked many questions and the American students (who had learned about Afghanistan's highly conservative society), responded respectfully.  Shock turned to intrigue and the girls at Sorya became more comfortable communicating with boys and girls.

A second exchange project addressed a simple, but profound question- What does democracy mean to you?  The American students were surprised to learn about Afghanistan's relatively new constitution, requiring a percentage of delegates to be women.  They were also surprised at how passionately the girls spoke about women's rights; seeking higher education, participating in elections, having careers, and becoming productive members of society.  Common ground was established when the Case students shared the history and the fight for women's rights in America.

Last month, the students and their teachers conducted a historical Skype broadcast with one another.  In Kabul, the girls at Sorya arrived at their class one Saturday,morning at  9AM.in front of a computer screen.  In Racine, Wisconsin, a group of Case High School students and their teacher sat around a large table in a restaurant on Friday at 11:30PM.  Through the magic of technology, the students could see and speak with one another for the very first time and a 'forever' bond was formed.

Cultural exchange projects at HTAC-supported schools have become a powerful tool for students to appreciate other views and ideas that may be different from their own, while often discovering that they may also share common values and core beliefs.  Over time, perceptions are changed for the better. 

Jul 28, 2014

Empowered Afghan girl becomes peace-maker

Miss Nazi 7th grader
Miss Nazi 7th grader

When many people hear about Afghanistan's decades-old culture of violence and its effect on children, they're often surprised to learn that violence in the home is commonplace.  They assume that most of this violence is caused by men, they are typically shocked to learn that women (mothers-in-law, aunts, older sisters) are responsible for physically aggressive behavior against wives and younger girls.

Nazi, a 7th grade girl, is just one of tens of thousands of Afghan girls who grew up in such an environment where she was subjected to harassment and physical abuse by her older sister and Aunt.  Things were no better at school where Nazi was regularly tormented and threatened by a group of girls who ironically were victims of abuse in their own homes.

Nazi's fortunes began to change for the better when she enrolled in HTAC's peace education program.  Living in an environment where fighting seemed to be the only solution for resolving conflicts or disputes, Nazi was fascinated to learn of multiple ways to mediate and reconcile basic differences without violent acts of aggression or threats. 

Shy by nature, Nazi not only learned to role model these peaceful techniques in class, she surprised herself by volunteering to become a student peer mediator; part of a select group of students who step in and help mediate conflicts between students (typically occurring in the school yard), before they become violent.

One day the sister of a girl in Nazi's class hit another girl and the girl's gang of friends came to the class seeking revenge.  Before any fighting broke out, Nazi intervened and successfully mediated the problem, getting the girls to calm down and helping them understand there was a better, more peaceful way to resolve their differences.  The gang of girls who came to the class looking to fight felt better because Nazi made sure they were listened to and felt respected.  The girl who had started the problem, realized her impact of her impulsive actions and apologized.  When it all ended, there was a profound relief among the parties. They shook hands and promised to be more respectful and friendly to one another.  Nazi felt empowered.  She had made a difference.

Since then, Nazi has taken an even bigger step, teaching her family members about the lessons of peace and cooperation, and while things are not perfect, there has been a dramatic change in her household and much of the fighting has been replaced by expressing feelings and listening to one another.

Imagine what peace education can do if we could make this program available to thousands of other girls and boys, just like Nazi.

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