By Ellaha Rasa
In Badghis province, a group of girls gather around a radio. It’s three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and they are tuning in to listen to Saday-e Badghis – the Voice of Badghis – radio station on 4.1FM. Today, the lesson is a tenth-grade geography lesson about the rivers of Afghanistan.
It’s been one year since the “Education at Home” program was launched, catering to the students from grade 7 to 12 who have been banned from going to school. Home becomes the makeshift classroom, the syllabus broadcasted over the airwaves, born from the girls’ courage and determination to continue learning regardless of the adversities and uncertainty they face.
Among these dedicated students is Mozhgan*, a 19-year-old girl who saw her formal education abruptly end in the ninth grade when the Taliban de facto government decreed that girls could not attend school after grade 6. Like so many other girls, she spends her days at home keeping herself occupied with reading books, scribbling notes, and learning housekeeping skills. But every Saturday, Mozhgan coordinates with other students to gather at a friend’s house to tune in to the two-hour home education program.
The Taliban’s attempt to deny women and girls their right to education has constantly been met with defiance. This gathering is another form of protest. Mozhgan and her peers persist in continuing their education by other means, listening intently and taking notes for the full program, determined to make the most of any opportunity to learn. To encourage engagement, the students are able to contact the teacher and discuss the lesson by phone.
According to the radio station chief, the Taliban’s closure of high schools to girls almost two years ago was what sparked this initiative. The radio has been one of the best methods of delivery for such content in a province that struggles with limited access to internet and electricity. Virtual meetings or lessons online are almost impossible to maintain with the connection challenges.
For Mozhgan, the denial of her dream to become a doctor has felt particularly acute. It was a decision she made after the death of her mother three years earlier from breast cancer that had gone unrecognised, and therefore untreated.
She recalls the agonizing pain of watching her mother’s health decline, the intense prayers for her recovery, and the feeling that this should not happen to another woman like her mother.
When she told her family of her wish to become a doctor and her inspiration for it, she says they wholeheartedly supported her.
“When I informed my father of my decision, I saw tears in his eyes for the first time in my life,” she says. “He encouraged me a lot to achieve my goal.”
Badhgis is also one of the provinces with less access to health services, especially for women. According to residents, this situation has worsened since the Taliban takeover.
Abdul Razaq Sediqi, editor-in-chief of the Radoi Badghis. photo: submitted to Rukhshana media.
Mozghan says in the aftermath of her mother’s death she spent 22 months that she describes as the hardest days of her life. Suffering from a deep depression, she continues to spend most of her time in isolation. “When I think that I have no rights and freedom, living within the four walls of the house has become a prison for me where I await my death every day,” she says.
Yet, the Education at Home program has provided her with a glimmer of hope. She says it shows that while the Taliban imposed restrictions on girls, they ultimately cannot extinguish the thirst for knowledge, and education seekers like her continue to nourish their minds through radio, television, and digital platforms, no matter how limited the access.
Echoing Mozhgan’s determination is Sahar*, an 18-year-old who managed to maintain the highest marks throughout her ninth grade despite her traditional family’s disapproval of her education. Her dream of continuing school were dashed by the Taliban’s arrival, but she hasn’t given up.
Today, Sahar continues her studies via the radio program, and is able to cling to a hopeful view of the future because of it. “With the launch of this training program, the station has allowed me not to lose a positive perspective about the future,” she says.
However, Sahar says it is ultimately a poor stand in for a proper school education.
“I, and thousands of other girls, are wishing that one day the gates of the schools will be opened for us,” she says. “I wish to continue my tertiary studies at medical school after graduating from school.”
Samira, 18, is another student of the radio classes. She has transformed her bedroom into a mini classroom to better focus on her studies with a whiteboard on the wall with three chairs and table in the style of a classroom.
Accompanied by her friends, they tune into the radio program, and with the aid of teachers speaking in local Badghis accents, they simulate the classroom experience. This imaginary world they’ve created has offered a semblance of normalcy throughout this crisis.
“I follow the home education program with my two friends,” she says. “When the program starts, I sit down and imagine that I am in my class and the teacher is teaching us.”
The volunteer teacher who runs the program works without pay and walks ten kilometers to the Voice of Badghis station to provide the lessons. Abdul Wase Abid, a veteran teacher in the province, says he remains committed to his cause despite receiving no benefits for it as he is convinced that a better future for Afghanistan depends on educated girls and women.
“We teachers understand the interest of half of society who need education, and consider it our responsibility to be a source of service to the residents of Badghis by appearing on the radio program,” he says. “To spread education door to door in Badghis.”
The Voice of Badghis radio station, established in 2018, has remains on the airwaves despite many other radio stations being forced to close due to Taliban restrictions on programming and staff. The station frequency reaches the Shahr-e-Naw, Moqor, and Abkamari districts of Badghis province, but the station chiefs are hoping to expand that to other districts such as Bala Murghab.
The editor-in-chief, Abdul Razaq Sediqi, says they are determined to reach as many audiences as possible, with special emphasis on girls seeking an education.
“We are ready to communicate the educational programs of the schools to the audience, especially girls, by any means possible,” he says. “The residents of the province call us and welcome our work.”
One of the producers of Education at Home, who did not want to be named says there are so many people who rely on the program. “Perhaps in every family in Badghis Province, there are between one and five female students deprived of education, who are in dire need of the educational program.”
Education at Home broadcasts lessons in the school syllabus every Saturday at 3:00 PM for two hours, and is rebroadcast twice a week.
*Note: Names of some interviewees have been changed upon their request.