Despite the encouraging headlines that more Afghan girls are enrolled in school than prior years, the sad truth is too many of these girls drop out of school due to the economic hardship their families face and all-too-often, are forced into early marriage and childbearing.
This unfortunate scenario seemed to be the story of 9th grader Asia, a bright, talented student who dreamed of one day learning the computer, but her school lacked a computer facility and classes. Asia knew of a computer course not that far from her neighborhood, but it was not free and her parents were poor. A high school in another district did offer classes for students, but leaving her neighborhood was very dangerous as security for girls was poor.
When her family decided to move to a safer district, Asia's life changed dramatically. The school Asia enrolled in had a computer laboratory and a caring teacher who took Asia under her wing. Although she had never touched a computer in her life, within a year Asia had mastered Windows, MS Word, MS Excel and Power Point. Her teacher was astounded. Never had she seen a girl progress so rapidly in gaining computer skills and applying them so effectively. In addition, Asia became a unofficial computer coach and mentor for many of the other girls in her class.
By the time Asia entered the 12th grade, her remarkable achievements had caught the attention of the Behzad Institute of Computer and English Language in Kabul and after a stellar interview, she was hired to become a computer instructor. Needless to say, Asia's parents are extremely proud and the money Asia earns goes a long way to help her family economically.
HTAC is proud to support the computer education program at Asia's school. Afghan girls can do remarkable things if we given them a chance.
The new school year began in Afghanistan in late March and this year, another 2,760 Afghan high school girls enrolled in HTAC's well-regarded computer education program. To date, 24,717 girls have enrolled in this life-changing course.
Girls (like boys) learn all key computer skills- Windows, Word, Excel, Power-Point (and for those schools equipped), how to navigate the internet. To make computer learning both fun and meaningful, students get to use the computer to complete school assignments and work on various projects. For a recent cultural exchange project, a class of girls researched the state and town of their American sister school. Becoming computer literate by the time these girls graduate is critical if they are to have an opportunity to seek productive jobs in Afghanistan's expanding information technology marketplace.
Abdullah Bin-Omar (or ABO) was established as a model school, one of the first of its kind in Afghanistan, by HTAC in a beautiful, but vastly underserved district (Paghman), about 30 miles West of Kabul, the capital, surrounded by foothills and impressive mountains peaks in the distance.
Before the school was built, children had their lessons outside; sometimes having to sit under a hot blazing sun in the Summer or braving the cold temperatures in the late Fall and early Winter. Yet, the students came because of their own thirst for knowledge and because their parents believed in an education (and a future) for their children.
Today, ABO has become a flagship model school, boasting 26 classrooms, 7 administrative rooms, a deep well for clean drinking water and 12 sanitary latrines. ABO also has a computer laboratory that can accommodate up to 14 students at a time. The Lab. is also used to provide computer application training for teachers and administrative staff.
Currently, 1,497 students (781 girls and 716 boys) attend classes in 2 shifts. The school employs 43 female and male teachers. HTAC supplements the standard (required) curriculum with such programs as: peace education, environmental education, and a unique bilingual literacy program called "Read Afghanistan", which is having a big impact on improving the literacy comprehension levels of many primary and middle school aged students. Each year, selected students participate in cultural exchange projects with American 'sister schools'.
For physical exercise, students participate in soccer, volleyball and a playground- built from private donations.
At HTAC model schools, Afghan children are given opportunities to show their talent, creativity, opinions and feelings. Earlier this year, 13 students at Rokhshana Girls School in Kabul, Afghanistan participated in a special creative writing project where they wrote essays and short stories about one of Afghanistan's endangered species - the snow leopard.
The project was part of a collaborative effort between HTAC and one of our partners, Dot-to-Dot Children's Books, a non-profit publishing company, whose writing team took these essays and created a unique, illustrated children's book called "The Snow Leopard Dream".
These young Afghan girls who helped author the book are prominently featured in the book as role models for generations of youth around the world as well as HTAC founder, Suraya Sadeed.
After establishing and successfully operating four community-based model schools in Smangan Province for 7 years, HTAC reached an exciting milestone earlier this year when we turned over three of these four schools back to Afghanistan's Ministry of Education. The three schools - Joi Zhwandoon High School, Ajani Malika High School, and Ayencha Middle School, have a combined average yearly enrollment of 6,428 students (4,768 girls). HTAC maintains our presence in Samangan by continuing to support Aybak High School.
This successful transition is part of HTAC's overall strategy of acquiring schools in need; expanding and enriching the existing educational curriculum; improving the skills of teachers and school administrators; and finally teaching self-governance. This process allows the schools, parents, and local communities to take greater ownership in the welfare of their children's educational future; one of the key building blocks in helping Afghanistan rebuild a civil society.
For our three departing schools, HTAC leaves a lasting legacy- fully functioning computer laboratories and trained computer instructors who will introduce information technology to thousands of girls and boys; peace and environmental education programs that will help Afghan youth reject violence, embrace the principles of peace, and learn to care for their precious environment; and a unique literacy program - introducing younger children original bilingual storybooks and the motivation for them to learn how to read or improve their reading skills.
Most importantly, HTAC was able to to help teachers and the parents of these school children forge new and positive relationships that will strengthen their educational bond and reinforce the value of learning in the home. In many of these communities, there is nothing more heartwarming for an Afghan mother or father to hear their son or daughter read them a story or share a new lesson learned.
Children and their parents are committed to learning and HTAC is here to help them on that journey. Our donors are critical in continuing that support.
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