Fahima is a bright, energetic student at Soria Girls High School in Kabul. Like most Afghan students, Fahima's knowledge of the world beyond Afghanistan has been shaped by what she hers from her parents, local mosque leaders, teachers, friends and the media. Sadly, much of that knowledge is skewed.
"When I first attended a HTAC's new cultural exchange class, I didn't know what to expect and when we were told we would be exchanging a project with an American school, I was both excited, but very anxious. I had heard so many negative things about Americans and other students living in Western countries; that they were arrogant, rich, self, had a low opinion of people in developing countries and of course, they had been occupiers of our country."
What Fahima learned and experienced in the coming weeks not only dispelled her opinions, but turned her into an advocate for greater opportunities to learn about other cultures. "I was surprised and delighted that there are students from other countries who truly care about the people of Afghanistan and want to help. Through our project, I learned how respectful they are towards Islam and there is a general tolerance for people of different backgrounds and even religions to live in peace and cooperation with one another."
Fahima shared her positive experience with her family. At first, her parents didn't believe what she said about the American students, but when Fahima described the details of their exchange; her parents' perceptions began to change.
The highlight of Fahima's experience was particip;ating in a Skype session with their American sister school. "To see and talk with my new American friends was an experience I will never forget."
In a scene being played out more and more frequently these days throughout Afghanistan, too many Afghan children are going to school without the most basic learning tools; school supplies. Most of these girls and boys come from families that are extremely poor and unable to afford even the most basic of supplies.
The sad truth is, the world is once again forgetting about Afghanistan and once again, Afghanistan's children are the innocent victims.
Last year HTAC visited Koshkak School in the Paghman District of Afghanistan, less than 30 miles from the capital of Kabul. It might as well have been 300 miles. Scores of young students sat in their classrooms without a pencil, a pen, a simple notebook to write on. We wondered how could these students possibly learn. They deserved better.
So we decided to do something about it. With the help of an international humanitarian partner and many individual donors like you, we delivered school kits to 3,080 deserving children at Koshkak and 11,350 students at seven other schools in this underserved district.
Our greatest joy was seeing the excited smiles on the faces of these deserving kids. They are so eager to go to school and learn and thanks to many caring donors, we are giving these children a chance to succeed. Help us put smiles on the faces of thousands of other Afghan children by giving them essential tools to learn.
The Paghman District of Afghanistan lies only 20 miles or so west of Kabul, Afghanistan's bustling capitol, but in many respects it is light years away. The District has suffered through several wars. Approximately 98% of the population has no electricity and there are not nearly enough schools to accommodate the District's children.
In one small part of this District there was a school, but it had no buildings, no facilities; not even chairs, or books or the most basic of supplies. All this school had was a few caring men and women who wanted to teach and share their knowledge with the children living in the nearby community. The only 'real school' in the area had been destroyed 25 years ago during one of several wars.
The word went out and amazingly, the children came. They sat on blankets and mats in the open air. A few lucky ones came with notebooks and pencils. Others came from families too poor to afford any school supplies. But they all had one thing in common; the desire to learn.
During the summer it got very hot and the only relief for the students and teachers was to conduct 'classes' under some of the large walnut trees nearby. Because there were no lavatories, the students would have to walk a long distance to find a facility they could use. When the Fall months arrived, the weather became cool, then cold, even in daytime. But the weather or lack of facilities would not deter these children. In November, the last official month of the school year, they came dressed in warmer clothes with many of them carrying blankets to wrap around their bodies as they sat shivering on the cold ground as their teachers (often shivering themselves), continued to teach lessons.
This same outdoor site became the inspiration for Help the Afghan Children's first model school. Thanks to the generosity of donors, both large and small, a new school was built that would not only transform education in this area, but represent a model for the future of schools throughout Afghanistan. After eight months of hard work, Abdulla bin Omar Primary School opened its doors for 850 students. It boasted 26 classrooms, 7 administrative rooms, 2 guardrooms, a deep well and 12 sanitary latrines. Also installed was a computer laboratory with fifteen computers, a network printer and a generator with fuel to power the equipment.
During the opening ceremonies, a group of students sang Afghanistan's National Anthem and HTAC's executive director, Suraya Sadeed along with the Ministry of Education's General Director delivered speeches. One of the teachers was beaming from ear to ear. Last year he conducted his classes on top of piles of stone and under the shade of trees. Now he would teach in a real classroom with a chalk board, chairs and desks for the students, books and ample school supplies. He glanced at some of the excited children who (before) had nothing, and there were tears running down his cheeks. "Now they have something" he said. "And I'm very proud to be associated with this wonderful school to teach them."
Abdullah bin Omar currently serves approximately 1,600 students in two shifts and has 41 teachers. HTAC relies on donors to help support this school..
It was the first day of school and Laila, an otherwise bright and energic 14-year-old girl, was struggling to recite the words in the old textbook that had been written for 4th and 5th graders. The more she struggled, the more frustrated and humiliated she felt as she heard the giggling among her classmates. Ms. Zarghona, her teacher, quickly recognized the problem and kindly asked Laila to sit. Laila was illiterate.
Despite a huge investment in building more schools, enrolling more students (especially girls), and training teachers, literacy in Afghanistan remains dismal. Recent reports suggest current literacy levels among all Afghans is somewhere between 34% to 38%; about 50% to 55% among men, but only 18% to 22% among women. While literacy rates are lowest in the underdeveloped provinces, many adults and children living in urban areas cannot read and write. Without literacy skills, most young men and women are doomed to a life of poverty, unless they belong to or marry into a wealthy family.
Even at many schools where reading is taught, there are serious barriers to literacy. A primary problem is that many Afghan textbooks are out of date and boring; another problem is that too many teachers emphasize memorization rather than comprehension. As a result, children are not sufficiently motivated to learn to read.
One of Help the Afghan Children's first projects was creating a program that would make reading interesting, engaging and instructive. "Read Afghanistan" is a series of original, illustrated, bilingual stories about present-day Afghanistan and feature characters that children can relate to and emulate. Our teachers are trained to (first) share the stories with their students who are asked to listen for comprehension and later discuss the meaning of each story, including specific themes and life lessons the stories contain. This process stimulates childrens' interest and motivation to learn how to read the stories themselves. To make the reading even more exciting, HTAC teachers will get their students to role play and re-enact key parts of the stories in class. Since their introduction at HTAC-sponsored schools, the "Read Afghanistan" program has benefited over 12,500 students with over 83% of enrollees demonstrating both reading and comprehension competency by the end of the school year.
Ms. Zarghona placed Laila in another class (she taught), where students like Laila were using "Read Afghanistan" storybooks. Laila was startled and overcome with joy when she saw one of the books they were reading: It was called "A New School in the Village" because the fictional heroine was a girl whose name was also Laila! After hearing the story read to her, Laila was motivated to learn to read it and with her teacher's kind help, she mastered the small book and proudly read the story to her classmates. But Laila's greatest pride was taking the book home to read to her illiterate parents who were overcome with joy..
Establishing a model school in a fragile country like Afghanistan is one thing; maintaining that school year after year is quite another when one considers the common challenges Afghan schools often face; especially those far from major urban areas.
Flash flooding can often wash away the only road that leads to the school or a bridge that once spanned a narrow, but turbulent river. Classroom desks and chairs break, windows are broken by vandals trying to steal computer equipment. A more serious situation can arise at girls schools when local insurgents post 'night letters' on the homes of school principals and teachers, threatening to kill them if they continue to allow girls to attend school.
Many schools faced with such challenges over long periods of time are forced to close their doors. At Help the Afghan Children, we establish, train and support Community School Committees who in turn support and protect local schools that neighborhood children attend. This community-based approach is essential in order for citizens to take an active role in the educational welfare of their children and since 2004, this partnership has strengthened the HTAC-local community school committee relationships.
These Committees have been instrumental at dealing with threats of violence by providing local armed security that protects principals and teachers, preventing break-ins and thefts of equipment, making repairs to bridges, school access roads and school propoerty, providing potable water to schools and supporting HTAC's enriched curriculum.
Committees are typically comprised of local elders, recognized community leaders, influential citizens, teachers and parents. HTAC's role has been to help mobilize committees, assist members in goal setting and decision-making methods, training committee leaders to become facilitators at meetings and orienting them to the new educational programs their children will be exposed to so they become comfortable about supporting these same programs in their homes.
In Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, HTAC-sponsored Community School Committees were so impressed with the peace education course their children were learning, they submitted over 700 unsolicited letters to educational officials lauding the benefits this program has given their children and families and requesting that it be continued in their local schools.
When you support our model schools, you are also helping to ensure the critical work of these community committees continues.
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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
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