Stop extremism. Teach Afghan kids to embrace peace

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peace education in action
peace education in action

For years, significant barriers have prevented any meaningful effort in providing much needed peace education to millions of deserving Afghan youth.  Because there has not been a clear directive and strategy about peace education from Afghanistan's Ministry of Education, many organizations working in Afghanistan have continued to pursue their individual peace education programs and initiatives without much coordination.  Despite the good intentions of these organizations, peace education is not delivered and taught in a consistent manner.

All of that is beginning to change, now that HTAC's is piloting Afghanistan's first national school-based peace education curriculum.  Our initiative, endorsed by the Ministry's Curriculum Department represents months of intensive research and development where our team of educators has redesigned HTAC's (already successful) peace education program, including a complete curriculum for Afghan public schools, grades 7 through 12.

Within the last 6 months, the new curriculum has been developed and translated into the two major languages of Afghanistan; Dari and Pashto.; several school sites in Jouzjan Province (one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces) have been targeted to receive the new curriculum; teachers at these schools have been trained; parents (of enrolled students) have received orientations; and the new program was launched in June of 2013.

The success of this pilot and the final approval of the curriculum by the Ministry will signal and major breakthrough, allowing the eventual delivery of peace education throughout Afghanistan, impacting an estimated 4 million deserving boys and girls.    

peace education helps girls and women
peace education helps girls and women

In a highly conservative, male-dominated society like Afghanistan, women and girls are often treated like second-class citizens.  Most everyone is painfully familiar with stories of how the Taliban treated women and prevented girls from attending school during their rule, however, even today, when girls and women have the right to attend school, seek jobs, vote, and become productive citizens, there remain many regions of the country where girls and women are routinely harassed, hit and abused by boys and men without a second thought.

HTAC's peace education and conflict resolution programs in schools and local communities are working to stop this cycle of abuse by educating boys and men that treating girls and women with honor and respect is not only consistent with the teachings of Islam, but demonstrates real strength (for males) and is beneficial for the community as a whole.

Our school program helps boys (who have often been the victims of violence and bullying themselves), deal with their anger and fear, learn how to forgive others, build self-esteem, and teach them the values of peace and cooperation.  A key element  is teaching boys to respect girls and women; that as males, they have a special responsibility to honor, respect their rights and to protect them from harassment or abuse by other boys and even men.

In the community, we often begin by educating and gaining the support of local male leaders to not only to honor and respect women, but also help them understand how women can contribute to a more peaceful, cooperative community as a whole by providing their unique perspectives; that there is value in allowing women to participate in community meetings and become decision-making partners along with men.

The educational process is sometimes long and there are no quick solutions, however (for initiatives lasting over a year), HTAC has seen a steady, consistent reduction of harassment and abuse (against girls and women) in schools, homes and communities compared to orginal baseline results.  In addition, there are positive indicators of greater cooperation between men and women, increased involvement of women in local community affairs, reduced aggressive conflict between families and more stabilized communities.

HTAC is especially gratified to see many boys and men (former abusers of girls and women) become some of our strongest advocates for the protection of women and their rights.

Sharifa, Sorya Girls School
Sharifa, Sorya Girls School

Thousands of Afghan children who have been traumatized by violence have found a way to deal with their anger and sadness through HTAC's peace education program.  Sharifa, a seventh grade student at Sorya Girls School in Kabul, is one of them.

Sharifa told us that before enrolling in her school's peace education class she was extremely quiet, withdrawn and unresponsive.  Sharifa's teacher and classmates didn't know it at the time, but Sharifa had been severely traumatized by a family tragedy during the rule of the Taliban.

Sharifa and her family were traveling in their car to Mazar e Sharif (in Northern Afghanistan) when their were stopped by Taliban officials at a highway check point.  The Taliban ordered Sharifa's father to get out of the car and go with them, without explanation.  When her father asked why he had to go and what he had done, the officials began beating him.  Despite pleas from the family, they continued beating him until he lay dead beside the road.  Sharifa, her mother and siblings had just witnessed his murder.

Through stories and role-playing, the peace education class helped Sharifa get in touch with her sadness and depression, allowing her to grieve for her father for the first time.  Sharifa's classmates (each of them with stories of their own), told Sharifa they loved her and made her feel that she was not alone in her grief.  Her teacher made it a point to spend time with Sharifa's family as well, and letting them read "The Journey of Peace" books.

Today, Sharifa is more outgoing and excels in the classroom.  Although she will never forget her painful memory, she has been able to move on with her life.

Tahera- Rokhshana High School student
Tahera- Rokhshana High School student

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."

teachers learn to role model peace
teachers learn to role model peace

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. 

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Project Leader

Stephen Perlman

Consultant, HTAC
Fairfax, Virginia United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Stop extremism. Teach Afghan kids to embrace peace