CRS in Afghanistan

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Education in Afghanistan: Changing Minds

By Amena F. and Fae R.

"Why are you going to school? Education is useless for a girl." Forty-five-year-old Bibi Gul wasn't happy that her young daughter, Nisa, had chosen to attend school. It meant the 9-year-old was busy most of the time doing her homework.

Nisa Gul, on the right, holds a book.

Nisa Gul, right, holds a book. She persuaded her mother that education for girls makes sense. Photo by CRS staff

One of many illiterate women in the Herat region of Afghanistan, Bibi was never interested in education for herself or her children. "The day the Catholic Relief Services education team came to start a class in our village, my husband enrolled Nisa without telling me," she says. "When I found out about the matter, I argued with him and told him that I didn't like my children to go to school. But my husband told me parents are responsible for the education of their children and must help them to be raised up in a proper way."

Building Schools and Excitement

Before the CRS program began, there were no schools at all in many remote Afghan villages. Those that existed were few and far between. CRS created community-based schools held in village buildings or tents, training local people to be teachers and providing books, blackboards and more. Working with village elders, CRS made sure to get community buy-in and to respect local traditions when founding the schools.

Even when public schools are available, parents often don't want their daughters walking long distances unaccompanied to get there. By bringing schools close to home—and, in certain communities, creating classes specifically for girls—CRS ensures that thousands of girls will be able to learn.

Nisa wanted to go to school so much that she cried, asking her mother to allow it. She promised to help with household chores. Reluctantly, Bibi watched as her daughter went to the classes.

Nisa was especially happy when a tin box of storybooks arrived. CRS provides the schools we support with "libraries in a box" so that students can take home books to read. "After this, every day I would bring a storybook and I would read it for my sisters and brothers," remembers Nisa. But her mother still wasn't happy about her studies.

One Small Book, One Great Change

One day she brought home a new book. "Read it for us," her father said.

"Education is very good. If my brother was not illiterate, he wouldn't need to go to Iran to work as a laborer to make his money. If I was educated, I wouldn't be forced to work gathering firewood. I would have the ability to do more."
—Nisa's elder brother

The book was Respect Your Mothers. Nisa had brought this book home to show her mother the benefit of education. As she was reading it, her elder brother told her mother, "Education is very good. If my brother was not illiterate, he wouldn't need to go to Iran to work as a laborer to make his money. If I was educated, I wouldn't be forced to work gathering firewood. I would have the ability to do more."

As she listened, Bibi had a change of heart.

"Founding libraries is a great step taken by CRS, and it encourages the students to learn better and study more," Bibi told her husband. "I used to think that education is not good, but now I know it is useful for everyone."

Amena F. and Fae R. (full names withheld to protect identities) work for Catholic Relief Services in Afghanistan.

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