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‘Young Champions’ support girls’ education in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, 28 April 2008 – Faiz Mohammad Fayyaz, now in his early twenties, lost his father when he was seven years old. His mother cannot read and write, because her father did not allow her to go to school, and married her off at the age of 14. Despite all this, Faiz’s mother made sure that he and his three sisters got an education.
Afghanistan continues to experience poverty as a result of three decades of conflict, as well as restrictive traditions limiting opportunities for millions of girls, particularly in rural areas. In response, the Government of Afghanistan is paying special attention to education – especially girls’ education – by integrating it into all priority programmes.
The Ministry of Education’s goal is to increase the net enrolment rate for girls and boys in primary grades to at least 60 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, by 2010.
Trained to be champions
To build a network of strong and passionate advocates for girls’ education, UNICEF Afghanistan – in coordination with the Ministry of Education and the Afghanistan Girls’ Education Initiative (AGEI) – selected three ‘Young Champions’ to participate in a regional training session in Nepal. Faiz was one of them.
To help reach the goal for girls’ education, AGEI was launched in March 2007 with support from UNICEF and key partners under the umbrella of the global UN Girl’s Education Initiative.
The Afghan initiative offers a forum for extensive information-sharing, networking and funding to improve coordination and collaboration on girls’ education. The forum links local and national initiatives, and draws necessary expertise from within the country and outside sources.
Young Champions are men and women, around the same age as Faiz, who are trained as advocates for specific practices, attitudes and policies related to education for all girls and boys. As spokespersons for equal access to schooling, the champions represent the girls’ education movement at a community, national and, in some cases, regional level.
The Young Champion have frequent interaction with the media. They use print and especially radio outlets to ensure that communities are exposed to messages of gender equality in schooling.
“My dream is to travel to every corner of Afghanistan and see girls going to schools,” said Faiz. “Just think, if we have educated girls for the next 10 years, then our whole country will change.”
“In my opinion the biggest problem in Afghanistan for young girls is early marriage and lack of female teachers in schools,” Faiz recently wrote in a monthly newsletter, ‘Seeking Peace’, which he produces with his sister and distributes to the Parliament, ministries and embassies in Afghanistan. He spends his own money to make sure the newsletter comes out every month.
Faiz works as a media project officer for an international NGO in Afghanistan, as well. In his travels around the country, he takes every opportunity to speak face to face with religious and community leaders about girls’ school enrolment. He also gets the message out as he meets with the local radio stations in rural areas, as part of his job, to make sure that they cover key social issues.
As Faiz increases his Young Champion activities on behalf of girls’ education, his mother has decided to allow his sisters to continue with their education at the university level.
“When I was seeing a young girl going to school, I did not think about it very much and had no specific feelings,” Faiz recalled of his younger years. “Now that I have gained some awareness,” he added, “whenever I see school girls coming from schools, I feel particularly happy and feel hopeful for Afghanistan.”