As the USA and NATO are leaning towards getting out of Afghanistan, we need to support good schooling and education access there.–KAS
In Afghanistan, underground girls school defies Taliban edict, threats
First, young students — between 5 and 12 years old — would trickle into the home of the two brothers, who for security reasons insisted that their names not be published. Then, teenagers started arriving, the brothers said, a particularly rare and controversial development in eastern Afghanistan, where females are expected to remain home upon reaching adolescence.
The brothers could hardly believe the turnout, which at once worried and excited them. They named the school after their great uncle, Namizad, a religious scholar.
“The girls just kept coming.” one brother said. “They were so eager, like they were starving.”
When a U.S. army platoon made a rare visit to Spina this month, soldiers saw the school as an example of resilience in the face of a failed development project, a sign of hope in a dismal place. In recent months, according to U.S. officials, the Taliban in Paktika have robbed teachers of their salaries to buy an 82mm mortar and shells.
“I want to thank you for your courage,” U.S. Army Lt. Col. Curtis Taylor told the brothers and their students after ducking through the family’s living room doorway.
The girls at the Namizad School sit on carpets, beginning each class with a recitation from the Koran. A chalkboard rests on the floor. Less than half the class has textbooks, which have made their way from Kabul. As in the rest of Spina, there is no electricity.
“These students are learning something from nothing,” one of the brothers said.
The brothers have pleaded for more resources. They have prayed to remain outside the Taliban’s reach. But the district’s education director claimed he had no money for the education of girls, the brothers said, in an account confirmed by local officials. And the Taliban have crept ever closer.
A few months ago, insurgents posted a letter on the brothers’ door. “We will not allow the education of girls,” it read, calling the practice “un-Islamic.” The letter warned of a violent punishment.
The brothers talked about what to do. Should they end the classes? Should they leave Spina?
The two willowy men in their early 30s have bright eyes and long brown beards and wear flowing white salwar-kameez, the traditional dress here. Their backgrounds are strikingly similar to those of the insurgents who threaten them. Like the Talibs of western Paktika, the brothers were educated in Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools. They, too, were raised to believe in a strict adherence to the Koran, Islam’s holiest book.
“I was so close to joining the Taliban,” one said. “The men haunting us, they are men we know well.”
‘I want to learn everything’
The brothers tried to make the case to the Taliban that they would teach only religious material to their students. They warned their students of the risk of attending classes, and they were surprised again when the girls kept coming. There’s now a morning class for young children and an afternoon class for teenagers. The brothers beam when talking about recent graduates, eight of whom are now trained midwives.
“I liked the other school better. We had desks and books,” said Baranah, 11, who was in first grade when the Taliban closed the U.S.-funded school. “But this place is still good. We still learn here. I want to learn everything.”
The insurgency has not followed through with its threat. The brothers wonder if it ever will — if the Taliban’s recent silence signifies its tacit approval or is merely a prelude to violence.
In some cases, the Afghan government and international organizations have been able to reach compromises with insurgents to keep schools open.
“We’re beginning to find ways to negotiate with anti-government elements,” said UNICEF’s Ganesh.
Some here worry that women’s rights are being sidelined as the United States prepares to leave and the Afghan government attempts to satisfy a hard-line constituency. In March, top religious leaders on the country’s Ulema Council ruled that men are “fundamental” and women “secondary,” barring women from interacting with their male counterparts in schools or the workplace.
In Spina, only boys are educated in the U.S.-funded, one-story yellow building constructed five years ago to educate girls. Most of the windows are broken, and the paint is chipping.
“That place seemed perfect,” one brother said. “But we knew it wouldn’t last long.”