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Afghanistan: Newsline

A chance to learn

©2006 CARE/ David Rochkind
Rukhsar Nabe Zada, 15, speaks with Helene D. Gayle at her school in Dare Gulai, a small village north of Kabul.

May 2006 - Three years ago, Rukhsar Nabe Zada had never been to school. Like many girls in Afghanistan, she was kept at home because her father did not want her in a class with boys. Under the Taliban, girls were forbidden from studying, but even after the fall of the regime, traditional Afghan values still present a formidable obstacle to girls' education.

In 2003, CARE helped Rukhsar's village open an all-girls' school through the Fast Track initiative, a school program specifically designed to provide an accelerated curriculum for girls who were denied an education under the Taliban. Now 15, Rukhsar speaks English well enough to have a basic conversation. She wants to be a doctor, she says, because she wants to help the people of her city in Parwan province. She also wants her country to progress.

Afghanistan has already made great strides. Girls now have a legal right to education, and the school system is growing. Public school enrollment has grown from a few hundred thousand students during the Taliban regime to more than 4 million students. But the system is not equipped to handle the influx. Schools lack skilled teachers, especially in rural areas, and many lack adequate materials.

CARE is working to fill these gaps, providing training for teachers, materials for students and funding for school buildings and facilities. In 2005, residents of Bamyan province built the Shirin Hazara Girls High School with materials provided by CARE. The school educates 1,000 students up to grade 10.

© 2006 CARE/ David Rochkind
Girls attend a class at Sharin Hezar, a girls' school in Bamyan built with funding from CARE.

Several hundred students gather in the school's courtyard the first Thursday in May to hear from teachers, students, parents and CARE President Helene D. Gayle. Standing in the bright sun, they gaze up attentively, their faces bright with curiosity.

"Female students had a very dark time during the Taliban and the civil war and have just come out of that. The education conditions are very bad and we still have a lot of problems - few classrooms, few qualified teachers," one teacher tells the visitors. "Even so, female students have a very high enthusiasm and continue to come to school. They realize they will have a brighter future, and they are willing to serve their people in the future. Some travel two hours to get here because they want to get an education and to put Afghanistan on the list of highly developing countries."

A student representative suggests ways the school could be improved. She asks for CARE's help building a second floor, so there would be classrooms for all the students. She requests a library, a science laboratory and a well, since there is no water at the school. One parent asks for electricity and projects for the school to generate money, such as raising animals. Later in the day, Dr. Gayle visits a classroom, where seventh-graders tell her their favorite subjects, including chemistry, physics and English.

The Shirin Hazara school is in Bamyan province, home to Afghanistan's first and only female governor, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, whom Dr. Gayle met later in her trip. Dr. Sarabi emphasizes that improving the position of women in her country depends on two things: education and women in decision-making positions. Though it may take years to achieve these goals, the governor says, Afghanistan has a proverb: "Drop by drop can make a river."

Many people are working hard in the hope that the river will flow.


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