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
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.

Jul 10, 2014

Closing the computer education gap

girls computer class
girls computer class

For most people in the West and around the world, the only news coming out of Afghanistan these days is the hotly contested presidential run-off election, charges of voting corruption, or the latest casaulties from a suicide attack.

But this past Spring, Help the Afghan Children enrolled another 3,750 girls in our computer education classes and for these deserving girls, gaining computer literacy and a chance to lead a proud, productive life are no longer a fantasy, but a realistic, achievable goal.

It was not that long ago when it seemed the most important thing was enrolling more Afghan girls in schools, and while those numbers began to steadily increase, a serious problem arose.  The overwhelming majority of girls graduating from high school had no marketable skills and earn a decent living.  Sadly, most of these girls were forced by their parents to marry (for the short-term economic gain of the daughter's family), and from pressure from their husbands, early child-bearing.

At the same time, a second problem was emerging that affected the entire country.  When the information technology marketplace burst upon the scene, Afghan government ministries, educational institutions, organizations and companies (large and small) were forced to hire people from other countries to fill I.T. related jobs because there were so few Afghans (especially women) who had such skills.  That meant, about 50% of Afghanistan's human resources (women) were not being utilized.

Help the Afghan Children, the first organization to bring cvomputer education into Afghan public schools, is doing its part to close this gap.  With our 2014 enrollments, HTAC has trained over 43,000 girls in computer skills and applications.  Earlier this year, we coordinated a historic real-time Skype between one of our schools in Kabul and their sister school in the United States.  In our classes, girls are learning how to develop spread sheets, power point presentations, and learning to navigate the internet and research information that helps them with homework assignments and projects. 

Our aim is not just teaching rils the technical applications of computers, but to give them real world skills, opportunities to secure computer-related jobs, and a new life.

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