Tahera Rezayee is a bright, energetic 9th grader at Rokhshana High School in Kabul, Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Tahera was introduced to peace education and immediately fell in love with the personal stories from HTAC's 'Journey of Peace' book series; designed to help children (traumatized by war and violence) learn how to heal and develop positive attitudes and behaviors aobut peaceful, everyday living.
Tahera's mother knew what her daughter was learning in class because she had received a parent's guide about our peace education program, developed to help parents reinforce the values of peace in the home. But little did Tahera or her teacher know, that her mother was feeling great pain.
Emotionally scarred by the devastation of war and the treatment of women under the rule of the Taliban, Tahera's mother had become bitter and aggressive, unable to engage in conversations with Taher or her siblings, flying into sudden rages of anger for what seemed to be no reason at all, or secluding herself in their home and letting her children fend for themselves.
One day, Tahera cautiously showed her mother the 'Journey of Peace' stories and asked if they could read them together. To her surprise, Tehera's mother connected to the personal stories as she was able to relate to the characters and their tauma as well as the lessons about dealing with anger, sadness and learning to forgive and move on. Most importantly, her mother learned how the families in the stories resolved their conflicts non-violently.
The transformation of Tahera's mother was dramatic. She began listening to her children, praising them, and taking a leadership role in applying the steps to peaceful conflict resolution for all family matters. Tahera herself is overjoyed. "Things are so much better. Our mother is listening to us and we now enjoy talking with her and not being afraid. My mother is happier and we are a family."
While most Afghan teachers have good intentions in wanting their students to learn, their lack of education and training unwittingly prevents quality learning and oftentimes breeds resentment and discontent among their students. A significant under-reported problem is that a large percentage of these teachers practice counter-productive corporal punishment where they hit, shake, yell at and intimidate students. Such practices can be found among many female as well as male teachers and almost always, the effects of repeated corporal punishment over time are devastating to boys and girls.
The problem is not that these teachers are fundamentally bad people; it's because corporal punishment has been so imbedded into the Afghan teaching culture; that they themselves were beaten and yelled at in class when they were students.
As a cornerstone of Help the Afghan Children's peace education training, teachers quickly learn that there are alternatives to such aggressive behavior and that the benefits of such alternatives make their teaching more enjoyable and productive. In our training classes, teachers learn to become listeners and facilitators; not simply authority figures. They learn how to physically arrange a classroom to promote more open dialogue among students as well as between teachers and their students. They learn and practice key positive role-modeling skills, such as encouraging students to voice their feelings and opinions without fear of reprisal. They learn the value of recognizing students who grasp a lesson or help another student. Most importantly, they learn how to create an environment of trust and openness.
Since we began measuring teacher performance in 2010, 96% of over 2,000 teachers at our schools have completely abandoned all forms of corporal punishment and are motivating their students through kindness, guidance, and respect.
Since 2003, HTAC's ground-breaking peace education program has taught over 53,000 Afghan children at 44 schools to reject violence and incorporate the lessons of peace into their everyday lives. Now a new program, built on many of the same peace-building principles taught in Afghan schools, is reaching and benefiting entire local communities where these children live.
A recently completed project in Samangan Province (north-central Afghanistan) trained and empowered local community groups (Shuras) in learning how to effectively address and resolve their conflicts while building a foundatin for peaceful cooperation. HTAC provided hands-on training for 2,028 members, 745 of whom were women. These local groups represented approximately 20,000 citizens.
Members learned such skills as non-violent conflict resolution techniques, building collaborative relationships, mediation, conducting effective meetings, and taking positive actions to resolve long-standing problems.
The 6-month effort was a resounding success. Community leaders and independent observers reported sharp decreases in conflicts, both within and between local groups. Our team observed significant improvements in how meetings were conducted as these groups were able to effectively address previously unresolved conflicts that were important to their communities. In a male-dominated society such as Afghanistan, the team also saw a greater inclusion of women as active participants and decison-makers.
While much attention (about peace education in our schools) appropriately focuses on changing the negative attitudes and aggressive behaviors of boys, HTAC has found that teaching Afghan girls about peaceful everyday living has great value as well.
Our experience at multiple school sites show that high percentages of Afghan girls (not yet exposed to our program), regularly engage in fighting, harassment, and other aggressive behaviors as well as showing disrespect for fellow students, teachers, and even their parents.
Why is it important for girls (as well as boys) to learn about peace? Deocumented studies have shown that educated Afghan women often provide a stabilizing influence in their households and are a bulwark against extremist views.
Consider the story of Fatima Haidari, in her own words, an eight-grader at one of the schools where HTAC's peace education program is being implemented.
My conflict happened almost 2 years ago between me and a girl of a family living nearby. It was over filling of water tanks from a public hand pump. I wanted to fill the water tank first, but the girl was not allowing me, telling me that she was here first. I knew I had arrived at the water pump before her and that it was my turn. We started shouting at one another and before I knew it, we were fighting. It was horrible. Both of us were bruised and hurt, but the conflict continued. Every time we saw one another, the tension returned. Although other girls (we were close to), were often present at the pump station, none of them stepped in to help us and resolve our problem. It is what it is, some of my friends would say.
Last year, a female teacher came to our class and recommended that we enroll in a new peace education program. When I saw many of my friends expressing their interest, I raised my hand and told the teacher that I would like to participate, but first needed to ask permission from my parents. I was relieved and excited to get their approval and soon I began attending peace education sessions. I learned a lot about the importance of mediation and practical skills of resolving conflicts peacefully, without resorting to fighting; not only at school, but in the home and our community.
As classes continued, I began to feel more positive about my attitudes and my behavior with other students as well as members in my own family. This led me to believe that I could finally resolve my differences with this girl I had fought with 2 years ago.
One day, our paths crossed while walking to school. I said 'hello' and greetings to her and I apologized for what had happened. She looked angry, but accepted my greetings. I then invited her to come to my home for lunch and to discuss our issues in a friendly manner. She agreed and two days later, she came to our home with her small brother. We shared some great food and talked about the benefits of peace and why it was wrong to constantly be in conflict. By the end of lunch, she smiled at me and we hugged. I felt so wonderful at that moment, as if a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I am happy to say that we became friends.
Fatima Haidari, 8th grade student at Abdullah Bin-Omar School
It began with a question and a vision from HTAC's executive director and founder, Suraya Sadeed. For generations, Afghan children have grown up in a culture where they have known nothing but war, violence, and aggression. Why are we not teaching them about peace?
From those early days in 2002, when HTAC helped sponsor some of Afghanistan's first peace education workshops for teachers, the dream of implementing formal peace educaiton courses into Afghanistan's national curriculum has now taken a huge step towards becoming a reality.
In recognition of our leadership and track record in implementing results-based peace education programs in five provinces for over 53,000 students, Afghanistan's Ministry of Education endorsed HTAC's recommendation to develop a national school-based peace education progrram for all Afghan public schools.
This will be a huge undertaking and will involve strong educational partners as well as support from institutional as well as individual donors, but based on what we have seen in the field over the past 9 years, the implementation of a national peace education curriculum will have a dramatic effect, not just with children, but with teachers, parents, and entire communities
For vulnerable Afghan children, especially boys, learning about peace will be life-changing. Many of them will learn how to cope with the emotional trauma they've suffered in witnessing or even experiencing violence first hand. They'll learn how to accept and respect different ethnic groups and replace fighting and harassment with non-violent conflict resolution skills and cooperation. Most importantly, they'll learn to reject violence and extremism and embrace the principles of peaceful, everyday living.
Thousands of Afghan teachers who have never had formal training will learn to abandon counter-productive corporal punishment practices as a way to motivate students and replace those behaviors with positive role modeling. Parents will learn how to reinforce peace education in the home and establish an environment of good communication and trust with their children. Local communities will help ensure the lessons of mediation, cooperation and problem-solving (all learned in peace education) will carry far beyond the classroom and into neighborhood councils and Shuras.
HTAC is working hard to make peace education, not just a program, but a way of life for the next generation of Afghans.
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