Over three decades of war have not only killed tens of thousands of Afghan children, but have decimated the land. Centuries-old well-conceived water and irrigation systms have been destroyed; drinking water has been contaminated and Afghans in urban areas are exposed to many of the worst toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants known.
HTAC believes that part of our educational investment in Afghanistan must address the issue of teaching children that awareness of and concern for the environment is crucial in the establishment of a civil society. Our environmental education program is designed to give Afghan youth hands-on experience in applying eco-learned concepts at their schools and in their homes.
3 years ago, the physical conditions at eight middle schools and high schools in the Paghman District (about 30 miles West of Kabul), were horrendous. School grounds were covered with litter and in some cases, contained hazardous waste. School gardens, normally a source of pride, had dying plants and poor irrigation. Our team discovered that the overwhelming majority of students lacked even the most basic understanding of health and environmental concepts, did not comprehend many of the eco problems in their own communities and had little or no knowledge of basic health issues. It was no wonder that many of them and their family members were constantly getting sick.
Today, the conditions at these schools have changed dramatically, thanks to the successful implementation of our environmental education initiative and the fact that students have taken ownership of the program. Few, if any traces of litter can be found at any of the school sites, and most-importantly, hazardous waste has been removed. Students have transformed their school gardens and young tree saplings have been planted. During field trips into their neighborhoods, boys and girls can spot toxic waste and have called attention of these problems to local officials. Furthermore, students are teaching parents and siblings good hygiene practices and preventing untold numbers of illnesses among family members.
In small, but profound ways, HTAC's environmental education program is giving Afghan youth the knowledge and tools to take personal responsibility for their personal health, improving environmental conditions in their local communities, and as they become adults, help influence environmental legislation in Afghanistan that will help protect and restore the country's forests, wildlife, air and waterways..
Every year, HTAC provides educational support for about 3,000 Afghan girls, and for every one of them there is a personal story of a girl striving to complete her education, gaining marketable skills and hoping to make a better life for herself.
Narges, an incredibly bright, hardworking student at Sorya Girls High School in Kabul, is part of a new generation of Afghan girls who is destined to make a difference for her country with our help. Her story inspires all of us at HTAC to work hard and continue giving Afghan children opportunities to succeed. Narges shares her story:
"First, I want to thank the HTAC organization that helps Afghan children. My name is Narges from Ghazni Province and a student of Sorya Girls School. I always put my full effort into everything I do. I am enthusiastic, friendly and cooperative, both in and out of school, but I still try to improve myself more."
"Ever since I was little, there have been two careers that have sparked my interest and that I wanted to pursue. My first choice is to become a teacher. Many of the teachers I've had in the past have made it clear that their job is rewarding and interesting. My one goal in my life is to find something that I weould love to do for the rest of my life and stick with it and that would definitely be accomplished if I went into the education field. I love working with people and can absolutely see myself as being a teacher."
"The second career I would consider is nursing, which I got from my aunt who attended Illinois State University in America. She enjoyed her courses and loves her nursing job today. We've always been really close and she's inspired me to pursue my education beyond high school and gain a profession where I can truly help others in need, such as nursing. She is the one person in my family whom I have a lot in common with, and it would mean so much to me if I could follow in her footsteps."
HTAC is proud to be a continuing partner with schools such as Sorya Girls High School in providing enriched courses and giving girls like Narges a chance to dream and achieve their goals.
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.
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