AFGHANISTAN Mujda means good news for schoolgirls

 Afghanistan
 Education
 26th May 2008

In a one-room mud schoolhouse in rural Afghanistan, a group of young girls are learning a new word in their native Dari: Mujda. It means good news – not a word one might think would be very useful in a place like this, where decades of fighting and natural disasters has left half the population living below the poverty line.

But good news for the girls in this impoverished part of Afghanistan is simple: a new pair of shoes, a book, or just going to school.

“It’s good news for us that the Taliban went away and we can continue school,” said 11-year-old Sima, a bright girl who dreams of becoming a surgeon so she can treat people injured by war.

For 19-year-old Roqia, good news is the opportunity to be a teacher.

“My father wants me to be a doctor, but I have always wanted to be a teacher,” said Roqia, 19, who has been teaching in a CARE community school in Parwan province for two years. Here in rural Afghanistan, these girls’ stories are a radical change from the times under the Taliban when girls weren’t allowed to go to school, let alone choose a career. Even today, fewer than 35 percent of enrolled students are girls. According to Roqia’s father, Abdul Majed, this needs to change.

“We need to be educated to build the future of the country. Girls are part of this,” said Majed, who is the headmaster of the local government-run boys’ school, and the head of the Village Education Committee that makes sure every child of school age is in a classroom. “People have always thought that way in our village. But before CARE, there was no girls’ school here, only the school for boys.”

Despite the increasing support for girls’ education, going to school, or teaching, is still a dangerous act in many parts of the country where some people still oppose women’s rights to education. In the past four months, 23 schools have been attacked; 207 teachers and children were killed last year alone.

Across the country more than 300,000 children are out of school due to the insecurity, and more than 500 schools remain closed, depriving children of the right to an education. Not far from Roqia and Sima’s schools, a bombed-out plain still bears the scars from the days when it was the front line in the battle between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance resistance. Destroyed houses and rusted tanks still litter the landscape.

Reviving an education system after nearly 20 years of war, and in the midst of an ongoing insurgency, is not easy. The government provides schooling in most urban areas, but rural areas are largely excluded due to lack of funding and qualified teachers.

CARE, in partnership with three other aid agencies and the Ministry of Education, is providing community-based education to 45,000 children in remote areas in 17 provinces, like here in Parwan, where there are no formal schools for girls. Two-thirds of the students in CARE’s community-based schools are girls.

CARE is also working with the government and donors to suggest cost-saving measures to use existing boys’ schools for both boys and girls, such as a dividing wall in the classroom, or separate class times, in order to increase the number of girls enrolled. CARE provides training for new teachers, and refresher courses for retired teachers who have returned to teaching to fill the gap – particularly women. Roqia has been to CARE workshops, learning how to develop lesson plans and manage a class full of 40 girls – including her eight-year-old sister, Madina. Roqia teaches in the morning, and goes to secondary school in the afternoon.

“This is not unusual,” said Najiba Sediqi, who was a teacher for 22 years before joining CARE as the Education Project Supervisor in Parwan province. “Even in the government schools, many teachers don’t have enough education. Training female teachers is very important. Only 28 per cent of the teachers in Afghanistan are women.”

But more important, says Sediqi, is ensuring that education is owned by the government, which is why CARE builds up community schools with the ultimate goal of incorporating them into the formal system.

And that, say the girls in Sima’s class, would be good news: when education for all becomes a reality, and an official school, with desks and a library, opens in their village. “We want to have a school uniform. They should be black, like the other girls at the government school wear,” said 12-year-old Ruwaida matter-of-factly. “Schoolgirls should be different than other girls. So people know we go to school. Because that makes us important.”

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