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.
As a developing country that is struggling to overcome an almost totally destroyed infrastructure, Afghanistan desperately needs to educate a new generation of Afghans in computer literacy to reverse this problem and better utilize its large untapped human resources; especially for young Afghan women.
Unless they acquire marketable skills, many bright, talented and motivated young Afghan women are doomed to early marriage and forced child-bearing. Many others remain in poverty, even those who graduate high school.
HTAC's computer education program, the first of its kind in Afghanistan public schools, has made a difference for over 37,000 Afghan high school students, 52% of whom have been girls. In fact, girls are proving to be just as skilled in learning key computer skills and applications - i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel, Power-Point, and navigating the internet, as boys and historically they outperform their male counterparts on their year-end computer testing.
For these girls, gaining computer skills is a life-changing experience, empowering them to seek and obtain meaningful computer-related jobs in Afghanistan's growing information technology marketplace, having control over their lives, and becoming proud, young, productive citizens of their country.
There are approximately 1 million unexploded landmines in many regions of Afghanistan. Tragically, the majority of landmine victims who are killed or maimed are children.
HTAC's landmine education program at 2 of our model schools in Laghman Province, a region still beset with a high number of landmines, is helping thousands of children learn about the dangers of these silent killers and how to spot landmines in and around their local villages.
Our program has three main objectives: 1- training groups of Afghan students at these schools in all facets of landmine education so they can (in turn), educate other students, children and members of local communities; 2- providing prosthetics and rehabilitative care for selected landmine survivors so they can lead more productive lives; and 3- interface with U.S. sister schools via the internet to educate American students about the program and facilitate their help in raising funds for landmine surviviors while promoting global citizenship between young people from these two countries.
Earlier this year, a team of students from Roshan High School (one of our model schools), went to a nearby village and taught children and adults Mine Risk Education (MRE), which they had learned in class. A few months later, the village elder thanked the school's program manager for "saving our lives". Several boys who had attended the MRE session found a suspicious object in a field, and because of their training, ran back to warn the village. What they found was a missile launcher with loaded missiles! Authorities were called and they extracted tha dangerous, unexploded objectives. Their actions saved untold numbers of people.
Community School Committees Build School Sustainability in Afghanistan
Critical to Afghanistan's long-term development is the ability to maintain quality schools and the continued delivery of quality education to Afghan girls and boys. Unfortunately, too many schools that were established after the initial overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001, lay abandoned or in disrepair, due in part to the lack of on-going funding, but also because those organizations (who established the schools), did not invest properly in building local community support.
HTAC takes pride in the support it receives from local communities where we maintain our model schools, but this support must be earned. Since 2004, HTAC has invested in the development of Community School Committees that allow members of the community to take an active role in managing school-community affairs.
This community-based approach is essential in order for communities to take ownership of their schools and the educational welfare of their children and this partnership has strengthened the HTAC-local community relationship. Committees have been instrument at deal with potential threats of security and theft on school grounds, making repairs to bridges and school access roads as well as school property such as classroom chairs and desks, while providing potable water to schools where deep wells are not always available.
Our committees are typically comprised of local elders, recognized community leaders, other influential citizens, parents of children, as well as teachers and school administrators. HTAC's role has been to 1) help mobilize local committees in neighborhoods where we have model schools; 2) train selected leaders to be Committee facilitators who are responsible for managing meetings; 3) train committees in setting goals and decision-making; and 4) periodically interfacing with committees as they discuss issues, make decisions, and take actions.
Because of the active role our committees play, members of local communities stay connected to their schools and take a personal interest in the education their children receive. By educating and empowering local communities, HTAC is helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of our model schools for many years to come.
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