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.
Despite increased school enrollments throughout Afghanistan, many children are forced to 'attend school' in non-existent or run-down facilities, with inconsistent or no power, read antiquated books from thirty years ago, and receive instruction from teachers who have never completed high school. Afghanistan's educational infrastructure remains so poor that only a tiny fraction of these deserving children will likely receive the education they need in order to gain the knowledge and skills to become productive citizens and help transform their country.
In 2011, HTAC is providing a quality educational experience to approximately 12,000 Afghan girls and boys who are enrolled in 9 of our model schools, located in three different provinces of the country. As one of the first non-profit organizations to successfully implement the model school concept into Afghanistan, HTAC is putting a premium on establishing and supporting centers of learning that make it possible for Afghan children to thrive and succeed.
Abdullah Bin-Omar Middle School in the District of Paghman, thirty miles West of Kabul, is an example of how quality schools are making a difference for Afghan children. Initially established as a primary school, Abdullah Bin-Omar is a well-constructed facility with 26 classrooms, a well stocked school library, and a fully-functional computer laboratory. Generators provide consistent power for electricity and to keep classrooms cool during the hot summer months. A deep well provides portable water and there are 12 well-maintained sanitary latrines. An average of 1,400 students attend the school and classes are taught by 37 well-trained instructors.
Supporting schools like Abdullah Bin-Omar are crucial in grooming Afghanistan's newest generation of future citizens and leaders.
Although Afghan girls have the right to go to school, in many conservative regions of the country, parents insist that girls and young women belong in the home; not in the classroom. Oftentimes, it takes a caring and courageous teacher to gently educate parents about the value of school for their daughters. Such was the case of Sweeta and her parents.
Sweeta was a 10th grader at Maslakee High School in the province of Samangan, one of several thousand girls who attend our schools in the area and her story is not uncommon. Sweeta comes from a family of 12 whose parents are illiterate and had little respect for the education of girls.
When the new school year began last March in 2010, Sweeta was especially excited after enrolling in HTAC's programs. She enjoyed listening and learning from her teacher and interacting with other female classmates. She immediately took an interest in our computer program and even began dreaming about one day teaching computer classes for children at her school so she could earn money to assist her poor family.
Not long after classes began, Sweeta's father pulled her out of school so that she could help her mother care for her younger siblings. Sweeta was devasted and to make matter worse, her mother (not knowing any better), constantly scolded and used aggressive behavior in disciplining Sweeta and her other children.
Sweeta's high school teacher heard of Sweeta's misfortune. Recalling the girl's enthusiasm for learning, she decided to invite her parents to school, welcoming them with cups of milk and biscuits. The teacher told the parents how enthusiastic their daughter had been, attending classes and especially wanting to learn the computer. She told them that one of Sweeta's goals was to graduate and earn a living teaching computer classes so she could help our her family, economically.
The parents were so impressed with the teacher and her positive messages of Sweeta that they promised they would allow their daughter to return to school. By the Fall of 2010, after seeing Sweeta's transformation in helping around the house, her caring for her younger siblings- after coming home from school, and her positive attitude, her parents return to the school for a visit. With beaming faces, they told the teacher they had learned through their daughter that it was indeed important for girls to attend school.
Update- Sweeta's parents have since encouraged several of their neighbors to allow their daughters to attend school later this Spring, 2011.
Since 9/11, one of the greatest challenges facing the United States and the West has been trying to bridge the polarization between the Muslim and non-Muslim world. HTAC's educational exchange program between Western and Afghan 'sister' schools has become a valuable educational tool in bridging that gap.
Our program has brought together hundreds of Afghan and Western students together in creating, sharing, and discussing meaningful and often life-changing projects that facilitate learning and changed attitudes about one another. Many of these exchanges help students gain practical knowledge. They learn lessons in geography about which of the 34 Afghan provinces or which of the 50 U.S. states is their sister school located. Some exchanges allow kids from either country gain historical perspectives about their respective communities, towns and cities.
Students also learn to respect different customs and values. Students in the U.S. and West have learned to appreciate the importance Afghan children place on family and to respect their parents and other elders. Afghan students are often surprised to discover that many Western students enjoy exercise to become fit and healthy and some have taken up jogging or playing sports.
Students discover insights about common themes. They learn that the concept of democracy is a shared value in both cultures, but there are some unique distinctions that allow for discussion and greater openness. They also learn that their counterparts desire a more peaceful world. This revelation alone does much to help bridge the post 9/11 polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims. Students also learn they often share common dreams- of becoming a doctor, an engineer, or a teacher.
As a result of this program, bonds between students, teachers, and schools are created; perceptions are positively changed; and the seeds for future collaboration and cooperation are planted in this next generation of children from both sides of the world.
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