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23 January 2007: Afghans determined to rebuild, no matter the obstacles
UNICEF External Relations Officer Roshan Khadivi offers personal reflections on the progress she has seen for children in Afghanistan since her first assignment there more than five years ago.
KABUL, Afghanistan, 23 January 2007 – Prior to my first trip to Afghanistan in 2001, I remember a time when the horrible pictures of group killings in Kabul football stadiums reached the rest of the world. News reports spoke of oppressive restrictions and daily torture of innocent people. Worldwide, many wondered how things would turn out here.
I came to this country in late 2001 on a short assessment mission, followed by a two-year assignment beginning in 2002. I have been back in Afghanistan for about month, and this most recent visit has been a real opportunity to see how things have changed.
Progress on the ground
Kabul is still one of the main hubs for the journalists. There are the many regulars and then there are the ‘firefighters’ – reporters who come and go on three-day visits. The stories that seem to get the most media coverage are those about security in the southern and eastern parts of the country.
There is no doubt about the security and access problems here, but there also has been significant progress on the ground. Somehow, stories of these extraordinary works hardly make it to the main news bulletins around the globe.
For example, more than 4.89 million children in Afghanistan are going to school and 48,000 women, even in remote villages, attend 1,782 literacy centres – astounding for a country where just few years ago, education was banned and any progress for youth seemed unattainable.
Education strengthens communities
My friends who live outside Afghanistan always seem amazed when I talk about UNICEF’s support of literacy courses for women in Kandahar Province, where over 4,000 individuals will learn basic reading and writing skills and gain access to vocational training this year alone.
This is because to outsiders, Kandahar is a place described in dire terms on the evening news, a place filled with insurgents. They have no idea that despite the efforts of those who try to intimidate people through the burning of schools or attacks on civilians, communities are more than eager to send their children to school or attend literacy classes in order to improve their lives.
The universal saying that it is always easier to destroy something than to repair it applies very much in this case – especially after so many years of war and destruction of infrastructure and morale.
Afghans know from real experience that war and fear do not work. They have seen destruction on a daily basis and have experienced the pain of losing loved ones. They know that when people in a community become strong by educating themselves, negative forces can no longer use fear or violence to stop them.
From what I have seen, despite the daily challenges, people in Afghanistan are more determined than ever to move forward. They know that by educating their children they are building a foundation for a country that is based on progress and peace, not the destruction of the past.
In 2007, with support from local communities, UNICEF staff members are planning to immunize Afghan children against polio in hitherto inaccessible areas. They plan to reach out to ensure that over 400,000 girls be will enrolled in schools. They aim to improve the quality of education, in part through the building of 200 cost-effective schools around the country. In addition, over 62,500 women of all ages will be enrolled in literacy courses.
Extraordinary things do and will continue to take place in this country.
Since my first visit to Afghanistan, extraordinary changes have taken place – this despite the attacks of those who fear peace and progress in a nation whose children are as deserving as those in the rest of the world.