Salima is an 11th grade student at Mirman Nazo High School in vastly underserved Farah Province in southwestern Afghanistan. Like the overwhelming majority of girls in the region, Salima had never seen or touched a computer, but she had heard wonderful stories about how computer training was transforming the lives of thousands of Afghan girls each year, throughout the country.
The chances of Salima getting her hands on a computer, let along learning any computer basics seemed like a distant dream; that is until HTAC launched a new computer education program at six Farah Province school sites, including Mirman Nazo, where Salima was attending classes.
"I had been hearing a lot about how learning computer skills could change our lives and help us get job, but I knew that in Farah Province, girls' access to computer education was almost impossible", Salima told us. "Then I heard the wonderful news that Help the Afghan Children was planning to provide a computer class for our school. I rushed to the Principal's office to sign up for the class, but was told that I would have to get a letter of permission from my parents."
Salima wasn't sure what her parents' response would be; especially her father's. In many of the conservative regions of Afghanistan, including Farah Province, long-standing cultural norms and traditions typically mean that a girl's place is in the home; even if they graduate from high school. But that night, when she spoke with and shared her deep wish with her father, Samima was surprised to hear his very positive response. Salima, to say the least, was overjoyed.
Today, Salima is enrolled and thriving in her computer class and when we asked her how she was doing, a big smile came to her face. "I feel powerful, confident, and hopeful. Many thanks to HTAC for giving our school such a good program."
At first, the parents in Qanjugha Village (Afghanistan) were delighted that their sons were attending the new boys' high school, which had been a long time in coming. Qanjugha, one of many outlying settlements about six miles northeast of Shiberghan City in vastly underserved Jouzjan Province, had hoped for its own local school for years and with a new school finally established, parents and other villagers had reason to rejoice.
Anticipation, however, soon turned to concern for the parents. Their sons were coming home from school complaining that their teachers "did not know how to teach" and that they were not learning anything. The parents and village elders attempted to meet with school officials, but were turned away without an explanation. Angered that the officials were not interested in hearing their concerns, the parents began making arrangements for their sons to attend another school, even though it was further away and more difficult to reach.
Help the Afghan Children provided a workable intervention for the students, parents and school officials. As we investigated the problem, we discovered that the local teachers understood their subjects, but lacked basic facilitation skills in delivering quality instruction. However, we also discovered that parents and other concerned villagers had consistently been left out of the communication process with school officials, making them feel disrespected.
HTAC began working on two tracks. The first was to provide targeted teacher training workshops to better equip teachers in learning new ways to transfer knowledge and facilitate better learning. The second was establishing a framework for community/school dialogues where parents and other villagers could regularly meet with school officials and teachers, raise issues, get feedback and agree on ways to resolve problems and misperceptions.
To prevent meetings from dissolving into endless arguing, dialogue was structure to get the community and the school working together in seeking practical solutions with the goal of identifying a solution (or) making a decision for action at each meeting.
After several months of training the teachers and providing guidance at meetings, HTAC is pleased to report that the great majority of boys have returned to school and, for the first time, are enjoying their classes. There is still more work to be done at Qanjugha, but students are more motivated and parents are pleased that they are now full participants in community/school dialogues with school officials.
Far from the bustling capital of Kabul, Afghanistan lies Farah Province, a vast sparsely-populated and underserved region of the country where many Afghan children and their families do not have access to good schools and services. Two years ago, Farah was a tinderbox of fighting between NATO and Taliban forces, and thousands of families were forced to flee to refugee camps in the north.
While the Taliban threat remains to some degree, another challenge is giving Afghan youth better access to educational and training resources; especially when it comes to job skills such as computer education. Today, a huge computer literacy gap exists between youth in Farah Province and those in more developed, urban regions who are gaining greater access to computers and using their skills to find jobs. Compounding the problem, Afghanistan's Ministry of Education's resources (spread so thin), is unable to make a sufficient investment in Farah.
To begin closing that gap, HTAC launched a program to educate and train an estimated 600 high school boys and girls at six targeted Farah Province schools. It marks one of the first computer literacy initiatives for students attending public schools in the entire region. Not only will HTAC equip these students with critical computer skills, but also assist them in seeking computer-related jobs in the area when they graduate.
The program is off to an encouraging start. Fully-equipped computer laboratories were established at each of the participating schools. Ceremonies attended by provincial, district, and local school officials as well as students, teachers and parents marked the opening of the new facilities. In late March, 360 boys and 240 girls from grades 10 through 12 enrolled in the first courses.
If past history serves as any barometer, the lives of the great majority of these students will be changed for the better. Most-importantly, HTAC's initiative will make it easier for the Ministry of Education to provide future computer education support for thousands of students at these schools in years to come.
Each year, HTAC gives thousands of Afghan high school students the opportunity to learn a skill that will change their lives forever - computer education - and each year, Afghan girls and boys demonstrate their passion and commitment in gaining computer skills that help them either obtain a much-needed job, advance their education, or improve the lives of their families.
In 2012, 6,700 students from various HTAC-supported schools in Afghanistan completed our computer education program, and over 98% of them successfully passed their final computer exams and evaluations! This measure of success is all the more remarkable considering the fact that the great majority of these students had never seen a computer before enrolling in the class. Before being given a passing grade, students must demonstrate their knowledge and technical skills in Microsoft Windows, Word, Excel (and for 12th graders) Power Point. For those schools with internet capability, students learn how to navigate the internet including accessing information to complete school assignments.
By supporting this program, you are making a true difference in the life and future of an Afghan girl or boy.
While more Afghan children are attending school than ever before, literacy remains a critical problem. Up to 50% of school aged boys and almost 80% of girls are still unable to read and write. Without these skills, these children are doomed to a life of poverty (and especially for boys), more vulnerable to extremist elements as they grow older.
HTAC's "Read Afghanistan" program has helped thousands of Afghan children acquire and improve their reading skills. Our original, bilingual and illustrated books are not only improving reading levels among enrolled children by over 80%, they're also teaching and reinforcing positive values (like showing respect, taking personal responsibility for actions, helping others, and aspiring to a worthy vocation.
Earlier this year, students at Sorya Girls School, in Kabul (an HTAC-supported school), read and discussed one of these wonderful books - "A Rose for Leyla" which tells the inspiring story of an Afghan girl who dreams of one day becoming a doctor so she can help her village.
Students at the school not only shared the story with their families, but put on a mini-play to re-enact life-chaning scenes from the book. For many of these girls, Leyla became an inspiration to finish their education, acquire skills, and do something meaningful in their lives.
HTAC's "Read Afghanistan" program is funded totally by individual donations. By supporting this program, you are helping to change an Afghan child's life forever.
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