Aminullah (in blue head dress)
recounts her struggle to learn
how to read.
Aminullah’s First Lessons: Simple Words in the Sand
In Baghlan Province, Afghanistan, a staggering 89 percent of women are illiterate, leaving many villages void of a single woman that can read or solve basic arithmetic. This does not bode well for the economic future of Afghan women.
These women will be plagued by a life of helpless reliance.
During a visit to Dahanpul in Baghlan Province, Afghanistan, a team of Christian Children's Fund workers spoke to Aminullah, a young Afghan woman who recounted her struggle to learn how to read.
“My father did not have very much education but he always spoke to us about the joy of being able to read and the eternal gratitude he would always have for the mullah in his old village who taught him,” Aminullah said.
"When I was eight years old, I asked my father to teach me to read. At first he refused and said that girls didn’t need to know how to read but I asked him so often and with all my heart so that eventually he agreed to allow me to sit in on lessons he gave to my younger brother. Every evening, after our work was finished, we would sit together and draw letters and simple words in the sand.
“One night during this time, my lesson was interrupted by some armed Mujahadeen criminals who came to our house looking for money. When my father explained that he didn’t have anything to give them, they beat him up mercilessly. There was no hospital near our village to treat his wounds. My mother tried to take care of him but he died two weeks later in our home.
“After my father’s death, the evenings were quiet and long and we stopped drawing words in the sand. For six years, our time was spent in the fields, trying to grow enough wheat to sell in the market. The nearest school was a three-hour walk and we could not leave our chores or risk walking alone so far from home.
“For so many years, I thought I would never learn to read and write.”
ChildFund Afghanistan: Teaching the Basics
To help youth like Aminullah, Christian Children's Fund, operating as ChildFund Afghanistan (CFA) is providing literacy courses in Dahanpul and other villages.
Created in close cooperation with the Afghan Ministry of Education, these courses help children and youth in areas where the Afghan government still does not have formal schooling.
In those areas in which schooling does exist, children similar to Aminullah, who represent an older group of children robbed of an education, must use accelerated learning techniques to enter the formalized schooling system. The length of the accelerated learning course is nine months. During that time, three different books are used in order for a student to complete the first three years of school.
At that point, students are prepared to enter the government school system at the fourth grade level.
In Dahanpul and hundreds of villages throughout northern Afghanistan, CFA provides the opportunity for children and youth to learn to read, write and achieve basic math skills.
Aminullah: A Few Months, Classes and One Big Dream Later
It has been nearly seven years since Aminullah received her first lesson from her father. Last summer, at age 15 and after nine months of an accelerated literacy course, Aminullah received her official diploma from the Ministry of Education.
This diploma enabled her to enter the fourth grade. She was determined to improve her reading skills and teach other girls and women how to read.
“Reading and writing are things I will do forever,” Aminullah said. “Even if we don’t have pens and paper, we can still draw in the sand.”
Aminullah has now made good on her promise to share her newly acquired skills and assumed the role of instructor. She is now giving reading and writing lessons to young women and children in her village.
CFA provided literacy classes for approximately 20,000 children, young men and young women in Afghanistan in 2005. CFA strives to provide at least half of the courses for girls, said Holden Basch, child protection manager for CFA.
The literacy courses are mandatory for all participants in the vocational training program in Afghanistan, allowing the students to not only learn a new trade, but also use their new literacy skills in managing their business.
Yet many needs still exist, says Basch.
Extreme winter conditions in Afghanistan drop the temperatures well below freezing, which is a problem in the classrooms without heat. There remains a shortage of books, as 20 students in a class must share five textbooks. And once the students do graduate, the dearth of libraries in the country leaves a void of reading material.
Even these conditions, however, do not trump a student's desire to learn.
And Aminullah is a glowing example of hard work, advancement against the odds and the difference CCF is making in Afghanistan.