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Exceptions to the Rule: Educating Afghan Girls


In Afghanistan’s north, in two small towns not far from one another, live two young girls who have much in common although they have never met. Both enjoy studying science, history, math and Dari, a Persian language spoken in Afghanistan. Both Shamila, 13, and Kubra, 12, want to be doctors. Both are among the 6 percent of Afghan girls who attend secondary school.

ChildFund has worked in the northern provinces of the war-torn country since 2001, serving more than 150 communities and reaching nearly 300,000 children and family members. Services include holistic child development and protection programs in which children, parents and government participate actively. The organization also has supported community-based literacy classes for children, trained teachers and provided children with play spaces.

Shamila and Kubra both enjoy playing with their friends in these recreational areas — Kubra has a special fondness for jump rope with her best friend, Meena. “I am just sad that my father can’t provide me with books and a school bag,” says Kubra. “We are too poor — my father farms for others. I know he can’t provide school materials. But I am happy I get to go to school.”

The lack of books and a school bag is one among many challenges — Shamila’s school doesn’t have enough tables for the 23 girls in her class, and Kubra’s school has no tables at all.

“I have heard of the computer,” Kubra says. “I would like to learn how to use one and be connected with the world. But our school does not have one.”

Still, she adds, “I love going to school. I feel happy and safe there. I love my teacher, Shokoria. She always supports and helps me and encourages me to learn.”

Although there is some support at home, both girls must contribute to household chores, including cleaning, washing dishes and clothing and preparing meals — before homework. “At home, there is no one to guide me with my studies,” says Shamila. “My parents cannot read or write, so they can’t help me. I have to study on my own.”

Kubra says she doesn’t talk with her parents much about school. “But I can get help from my friends, teachers and the mullah [religious leader]. I sometimes go to the mosque to study, and the mullah helps me with my homework.”

Although Kubra and Shamila are most likely unaware of the 18 percent literacy rate statistic among Afghan girls age 15 to 24, both girls consider themselves lucky. Kubra says, “Many girls in my village don’t go to school and can’t read or write. They spend their days working around the house and collecting water. They never play and learn.”

Adds Shamila, “For the moment, I am just happy to go school. Many girls don’t.”