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
Mar 13, 2015

Computers come to Paghman schools

The teenaged girls lined up in orderly fashion, patiently waiting to receive their much-needed school kits.  Many of them came from families too poor to afford even the most basic school supplies and they were grateful as they opened their bags to find notebooks, pens, pencils and tablets.  Many of the girls were grateful to even being able to attend school, since it was not unusual for girls past puberty to remain at home, helping with household chores and waiting for a marriage proposal.

But what these and other girls in nearby schools really wanted was to be in a computer class.  They knew that if given the chance, learning computer skills would change their lives forever.  Upon their graduation, they could seek the computer related jobs that were beginning to appear in their district; jobs that were being filled by young men.  Or, they could find work in Kabul where there were even more opportunities.  Without any marketable skills they would not have much of a life.  These girls wanted to be productive and be able to help their families. Computer skills would give them that and something else; dignity.

Paghman is a district known for its beautiful setting at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountain range, its fruit trees and famous gardens.  It is also an underserved region of the country with few schools and insufficient resources to support a growing population of school-aged children.  Sadly, girls' schools tend to be less supported than schools for boys.

Two years ago, the girls politely asked their teacher if a computer class might be coming to their school in the future. Their teacher did not want to dash their hopes, but she didn't want to raise their expectations either.  She was aware that HTAC had been working hard to bring the first computer education program to several schools in the area, including theirs. "One day" she told them. "People are raising money to bring this program to our school." This past year they asked again.  She knew we were closer in securing funds for a computer class, but she was cautious in her response to her students. 

This spring, HTAC gave this teacher and her students a huge surprise.  When we brought in and began assembling the computer equipment at the school, the village buzzed with excitement. Even many parents who had been reluctant to send their daughters back to school expressed gratitude for they realized the skills their girls would learn could help their families economically.   A generator with sufficient fuel had to be brought in to power the equipment (there is no electricity in these schools), and a search for a qualified female instructor took some time. Finally, everything was ready and HTAC's education team proudly announced the very first computer education for this Paghman school was open for enrollment.  To see the looks on the faces of these deserving girls made all our work worthwhile.

  

Jan 14, 2015

Fighting the war to win hearts and minds

HTAC primary school peace room
HTAC primary school peace room

In rural Southern Afghanistan, the dark classroom with only one small window was so hot and stuffy that the 38 little girls could hardly breathe.  There were only 9 desks and a few long chairs that had to be shared among the young students.  Their teacher was trying to convince them how lucky they were to have the opportunity to study and learn, now that Afghanistan's Constitution decreed that girls as well as boys had the right to an education.  She was talking about their bright future, the possibilities, and the many ways they could help Afghanistan when they finished their schooling.

The girls listened quietly.  Their eyes were filled with questions, worries, and doubts.  They knew that just the night before their Principal received a night letter from an unknown group who warned him to shut down their school or they would kill him.  They were not sure if they would come tomorrow, or their school building would be standing.  And yet, here they were, eager to learn as much as they could.  Their thirst for knowledge was far greater than their fear.  These little girls and their teacher clearly understood what was at stake; it wasn't just their own personal lives, but the life and soul of Afghanistan itself.  They knew that without education there could be no chance for real lasting security, prosperity and a true civil society.

As U.S. and Western forces wind down their operations and turn over security to the (still fragile) Afghan national army, a furious war continues to rage in many parts of the country.  This war is much more complex than fighting the ever-resilient Taliban; It's a war between two fundamental philosophies- those who preach and teach extremist views that glorify fighting, violence and lack of tolerance for women, girls and ethnic minorities; versus those who believe and practice peaceful, everyday living and to respect others.  These extremists can be found, not just among the ranks of the Taliban, but in mosques, local communities; even schools and homes- where ignorance and fear of change reigns.

Help the Afghan Children is fighting this war by trying to educate impressionable youth, re-educate religious and community leaders about how peace and tolerance are hallmarks of Islam, re-training teachers to abandon corporal punishment practices, and helping parents create warm, nurturing home environments for their children and to support the education of their daughters.

As it turned out, those responsible for posting the night letter at the school Principal's home was a radicalized gang of young Afghan men who wanted to emulate the Taliban.  Fortunately, the local religious and community leaders as well as many parents rose up to defend the Principal and the school; authorities arrested the young men and the girls continued with their studies.  HTAC is committed to supporting these and other communities who yearn for peace and tolerance.   

Jan 14, 2015

Creative reading program improves literacy skills

Students re-enact stories from books they
Students re-enact stories from books they've read

It was the first day of school and Laila, an otherwise bright and energic 14-year-old girl, was struggling to recite the words in the old textbook that had been written for 4th and 5th graders.  The more she struggled, the more frustrated and humiliated she felt as she heard the giggling among her classmates.  Ms. Zarghona, her teacher, quickly recognized the problem and kindly asked Laila to sit.  Laila was illiterate.

Despite a huge investment in building more schools, enrolling more students (especially girls), and training teachers, literacy in Afghanistan remains dismal.  Recent reports suggest current literacy levels among all Afghans is somewhere between 34% to 38%; about 50% to 55% among men, but only 18% to 22% among women.  While literacy rates are lowest in the underdeveloped provinces, many adults and children living in urban areas cannot read and write.  Without literacy skills, most young men and women are doomed to a life of poverty, unless they belong to or marry into a wealthy family.

Even at many schools where reading is taught, there are serious barriers to literacy.  A primary problem is that many Afghan textbooks are out of date and boring; another problem is that too many teachers emphasize memorization rather than comprehension.  As a result, children are not sufficiently motivated to learn to read.

One of Help the Afghan Children's first projects was creating a program that would make reading interesting, engaging and instructive.  "Read Afghanistan" is a series of original, illustrated, bilingual stories about present-day Afghanistan and feature characters that children can relate to and emulate.  Our teachers are trained to (first) share the stories with their students who are asked to listen for comprehension and later discuss the meaning of each story, including specific themes and life lessons the stories contain.  This process stimulates childrens' interest and motivation to learn how to read the stories themselves. To make the reading even more exciting, HTAC teachers will get their students to role play and re-enact key parts of the stories in class.  Since their introduction at HTAC-sponsored schools, the "Read Afghanistan" program has benefited over 12,500 students with over 83% of enrollees demonstrating both reading and comprehension competency by the end of the school year.

Ms. Zarghona placed Laila in another class (she taught), where students like Laila were using "Read Afghanistan" storybooks.  Laila was startled and overcome with joy when she saw one of the books they were reading:  It was called "A New School in the Village" because the fictional heroine was a girl whose name was also Laila!   After hearing the story read to her, Laila was motivated to learn to read it and with her teacher's kind help, she mastered the small book and proudly read the story to her classmates.  But Laila's greatest pride was taking the book home to read to her illiterate parents who were overcome with joy..   

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