Improve the Lives of Children in Afghanistan

 
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Photo credit: Mats Lignell / Save the Children
Photo credit: Mats Lignell / Save the Children

20-year-old Shukria has a mission: to educate and restore hope to a generation of girls living with the legacy of war and conflict. She is on her way to fulfill that mission with the help of Save the Children’s teacher training programs.  

Becoming a teacher may seem like an easily achievable dream for many people around the world, but for the young women living in Afghanistan – a country battered by years of war - it is a dream fraught with challenges.

Yet, there are the few hundreds who dare to pursue that dream, undeterred by rampant violence, poor living conditions, cultural restrictions and gender discrimination.  With courage and a dogged will to rebuild broken lives and communities, they are the women who have the potential of uplifting their nation - one teacher at a time - as they seek to educate young girls and pass on the ultimate lesson in life: hope, and the good that comes out of it.

One of these young women is Shukria, a 20-year-old who lives with her parents, two brothers and a sister in one of the many villages along a dusty, uneven road in Bamyan province. A determined woman who persevered in school and is now in the 12th grade, she has nurtured the idea of teaching all her life, and jumped at the opportunity when she learned of a teacher training program introduced by Save the Children in her village.

In Afghanistan, only 28% of teachers are women. There is an urgent need to encourage and train young women to become teachers, especially in light of recent Save the Children studies that show how much more effective female teachers are at increasing the enrollment rate of girls beyond grades 3 and 4.

 “When I joined the training program, I felt that I was finally given a chance to make my dreams come true. I have always wanted to be a teacher since I was a child,” Shukria said. “Very few women in Afghanistan become teachers and we need to change the system in our schools. The system is old-fashioned, cruel and includes methods like beating, insulting, punishing and discriminating against other children”. Shukria commented that as a result, many children do not go beyond primary school.

Since Shukria participated in Save the Children’s teacher training program, she has received training in new teaching methodologies, observed and learned from other teachers, and practiced teaching classes. On a typical day, the sessions she attends are run by two Save the Children trainers, usually one female and one male. Tacked on the walls are several flipcharts that show a jumble of ideas – a result of lively productive brainstorming on issues such as child rights, and factors contributing to early marriage among young Afghan girls.

When recalling the first experience she had standing in front of a group of students, she said, “I will never forget that experience. There was no order in the classroom, but, I was able to control and manage the class, using the methods I learned from Save the Children’s teacher training program”.

The path to being educated, much less becoming a teacher, has been long and difficult, not only for Shukria but for the generation before her. Her mother, Zahra, 35 years old, was forced to flee to Iran when she was only in the 4th grade due to internal fighting among different factions in the village where she lived. Her father is uneducated, and calls himself “like a blind man because I can’t read or write”. Shukria’s parents have faced criticism from relatives and neighbors who have opposed her aspiration to become a teacher.

Shukria’s father said, “One of the reasons our country is suffering from war and other man-made disasters is ignorance of people. If they are educated, I am completely sure that we will never let anyone interfere in our country’s affairs. I hope that one day my daughter becomes a famous and professional teacher in the village”.

More About the Save the Children’s Teacher Training Programs

Save the Children recognizes that there are gaps in the educational system in Afghanistan that have prevented many girls to come to school, and even less so, become teachers.  To address this gap, the organization is running a pilot program in Bamyan province, a teacher training program that aims to increase girls’ participation in school, enable young women to play more of a role in basic education, and prepare them for responsible roles in society. With the assistance of the Bamyan Provincial Department, Save the Children is currently training 240 female students in grades 10 to 12 in two districts to become teachers or teaching assistants.

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Student elections in Balkh Province
Student elections in Balkh Province

Save the Children believes that children’s participation in school processes is critical for both their comfort and their success in school.  We therefore work with teachers and students to establish student councils that provide students with the platform to share issues affecting them with school authorities.

During 2010, Save the Children's education team worked with school authorities in Afghanistan to establish student councils in the 181 schools where we work.  The team also facilitated a forum for children to select (through voting) their council members.  The process of selecting representatives to the student council of each school was carried out by the children themselves, with the support of their teachers, and the active participation of education department representatives in each district. 

Save the Children also provided training to student-council representatives on the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC), child protection, the use of alternative forms of discipline other than corporal punishment, and the promotion of non-violent learning environments within their respective schools.  The student representatives were also oriented on how to develop and promote positive conflict-resolution techniques among their peers. The skills acquired by these student representatives will be vital in creating friendly learning environments for all children, which in turn will yield positive learning outcomes.

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Child and health worker in Afghanistan
Child and health worker in Afghanistan

Since 1985 Save the Children has been responding to the needs of Afghan children and families. The goals of these projects focus on three critical areas of childfocused development work. These are: basic education, water and sanitation, and childhood nutrition. One of the key elements of childhood nutrition is making sure that mothers are also taken care of. By working to improve the health, nutrition and hygiene of mothers, Save the Children is also securing a strong foundation of good nutrition for children.

The village of Frishqan-e-Kalan is located in the north-eastern part of the Sangchrak district of the Sar-i-Pul Province. The village is a very small community of about 360 families. The community’s main source of income is agriculture; the main products include wheat, barley, peas and grapes. It is here that we meet Basid and his mother.

Basid was one of the first children screened for malnutrition by Save the Children’s malnutrition team. At eight months old, Basid was very thin and looked malnourished—he only weighed 3.2 Kg. In speaking to Basid’s mother, Save the Children asked about Basid’s feeding, i.e. what type of food she fed him; who in the family was responsible for feeding him; how often he was fed; and whether she started feeding him using her own breast milk. She confessed that she had been feeding Basid on artificial milk obtained from the bazaar and that she had not yet taken him for vaccinations.

When she started attending Nutrition Education Rehabilitation Sessions, NERS, run by volunteers and Save the Children nutrition staff, there were immediate and significant changes in her and her son. Both mother and son’s hygiene improved, and Basid’s mother learned the importance of a balanced diet, the benefits of exclusive breast feeding, and the importance of vaccinations to protect children against preventable diseases. Also during those fourteen days of NERS sessions, Basid gained weight on a daily basis—a total of 700 grams.

Since then, Basid and his mother have been doing extremely well. Basid has received all of his vaccinations andnow weighs 7 kilos. Basid’s mother expressed her gratefulness to Save the Children for showing them that simple adjustments to their nutritional practices can produce enormous results, without spending too much money.

Basid’s story is not unique. Thankfully, it is replicated in hundreds of villages in Afghanistan where Save the Children implements nutrition programs. Your donation helps Save the Children to reach families and children in Afghanistan, and we are grateful for your support.

 

Child in Afghanistan receives care
Child in Afghanistan receives care

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Education and health services were severely affected during the years of conflict in Afghanistan. Many rural communities still do not have access to basic health services and countless children and their families don’t know how to prevent or protect themselves from communicable and preventable diseases.

Save the Children’s School Health and Nutrition programs help to fill this critical gap through a variety of initiatives including: Child-focused Health Education, micronutrient campaigns, vitamin distribution, de-worming, school-based vision and hearing screening by trained teachers, and trained first aid committees and kits.

Our program supports 42 schools and their surrounding areas and reaches approximately 34,000 school-aged children in the northern districts of Faryab and Sar-i Pul.

Since 1985 Save the Children has been responding to the needs of Afghan children and families, whether in Afghanistan or refugee sites in Pakistan, by working to help them improve their lives through programs in health, education and child protection. We have done this throughout years of war, sociopolitical turmoil, drought and oppression. Save the Children is committed to helping Afghan families and communities.

Habiba: Helping Other Children in Her Community

Habiba, an eighth grader at Dong Qala School in Gorziwan District, has volunteered for three years in a Child-focused Health Education group and is a first aid facilitator. She is proud of her work that helps other children in her community.

Recently, Habiba spoke with one of our staff members: "I remember when I was younger and Save the Children had not yet started working in our school and community. I remember how teachers used to hit students when they didn't know their lessons or didn't do their homework. I remember when parents were reluctant to send their children, even boys, to school. I remember when we didn't know how to prevent catching diseases. "

Now the classes are more active, friendly and interesting. My parents were one of the hundreds of parents in my village who didn't want their children to go to school. My parents are now PTA and ECD Committee members. They encourage other parents to send their children, especially girls, to school and this is why that I am in the eight grade and still continuing my education.

When Save the Children started its school health and nutrition activities in our village I wanted to attend the child focused health group. My group volunteer facilitator was one of our community girls and I too wanted to be a volunteer one day. I feel very fortunate to have been selected. Now I am not only learning about health, but also facilitating a group myself and helping other children to learn as well as providing first aid to injured children. The programs have helped us to change our lives in such a big way.

In the Child-focused Health Education program, Habiba has learned how to prevent diarrhea, coughs, colds and intestinal worms. She has also learned about the benefits of washing hands, iodized salt, safe water and vitamin A. She is also a member of her school’s first aid committee and has learned how to help a child with diarrhea and how to prepare Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS).

Habiba says, “Before I joined the program and received this training, my parents were not giving water and fluids to my siblings who had diarrhea thinking that fluids would worsen the situation. Then I learned in my groups that children with diarrhea need more fluids to be rehydrated. Once in the summer, my younger brother got a diarrhea and my mother was not giving him fluids. I remembered what I learned in my group and told my mother about ORS and went to the small local drugstore near my house and got a sachet of ORS and prepared it while showing my mother how easy it was and then asked my brother to drink. He got well in two days after drinking it regularly.”

Afterwards, her mother requested that she also teach her friends and neighborhood women how to treat diarrhea and prepare ORS.

Habiba hopes to be a doctor one day and help her community and other people.


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Afghan Child - Photo Credit: Save the Children
Afghan Child - Photo Credit: Save the Children

The health care system in Afghanistan was largely destroyed by decades of conflict – particularly services for women and children. In partnership with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), Save the Children works with families, communities and health care workers in homes, health posts, clinics and hospitals to promote basic health, well being and survival, particularly for children younger than five and for women of childbearing age.

Each year, four million babies die in the first 28 days of life – the neonatal period. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries. In response in Afghanistan, Save the Children partners with the MoPH, WHO, UNICEF and other health service delivery providers with a focus on improving the access of mothers and newborns to low-cost, low-tech interventions. Recently, we led a qualitative research study in partnership with the MoPH and UNICEF to learn about practices during pregnancy, delivery, postnatal period and for newborn care.* Based on these findings and in consultation with the MoPH Technical Advisory Group, Save the Children is developing a demonstration project focused on extending postnatal care to mothers and newborns at home through the existing Community Midwives and Community Health Workers.

In all health initiatives we encourage people – from school children to health officials – to take part in improving the health of Afghan children, mothers and families. In addition to government healthcare leaders and administrators, Save the Children supports doctors, nurses, community midwives and other clinicians. As importantly, we support community health workers, who staff home-based health posts in some of the poorest and most rural areas of northern Afghanistan.

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Project Leader

Megan McLain

Manager, Corporate Partnerships
Westport, CT United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Improve the Lives of Children in Afghanistan