By: Somaya Mandgar
A mother with a baby in her arms stands facing the whiteboard. She is solving a math problem at an education center set up by five volunteer female teachers in Bamyan. Their students are the girls who are not allowed to attend high school due to a Taliban ban and women who never finished school or never had the opportunity to go.
Momina Rafiei, 25, started the center after a moment of clarity about four months ago that staying at home all day every day is impossible for her. Nor is it ideal that hundreds of girls are being deprived of an education. She could not remain indifferent. As a university graduate, she decided she might be able to pass on some of what she knew. And with that, Momina decided to start the educational center.
Since launching three months ago in a residential home, the education center now has at least 250 students. The volunteers prefer not to report its exact location and at the request of those interviewed for this report, all names are pseudonyms.
As the winter closes in, the center’s rooms are getting colder. But there is a warmth in the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the students. The five volunteer teachers are all university graduates.
Momina says she and her friends went door to door in the villages for at least two weeks to inform people about their program and ask them to send their daughters to the center. They have set it up in a central place where it is easy for girls from different villages to come.
More than 400 days have passed since the closure of girls’ schools above the sixth grade by order of the Taliban. Hundreds of thousands of girls have been excluded from school and stuck at home. It is not clear how long the situation will last. There is no sign that girls schools will reopen, and there is talk of the Taliban banning girls from university after the fall semester.
Sahar Gul Hasani, 26, one of the teachers at the education center, says they founded the education center so girls don’t lose their motivation and to plant seeds of hope in their hearts.
“Our goal is that the girls who have stayed at home from grade seven and above do not become depressed and wither and do not forget what they have learned,” she says. “They review the lessons they studied in school and learn new things.”
The center’s syllabus includes school subjects and special literacy classes.
Sahar Gun says when they started the education center, women who have never had the opportunity to be educated asked for literacy classes. This was how the special literacy program started. Among the students, some who didn’t even know the letters of the alphabet three months ago can now read and write some words.
While the center has generally had a positive reception from families who know about it, others have been critical and prevented their daughters from attending.
“Although those students were very talented and hardworking, they say that their families would not allow them to attend class saying, Why would you go to schools at the time of the Taliban? It is not worth it,” Sahar Gul says,
As they expand, Sahar Gul has also made her own home another training place, providing five rooms for the center to use.
Conditions and facilities have never been ideal for them.
“Many of our classrooms are not even thatched and only have a mud wall,” Sahar Gul tells Rukhshana Media. “We don’t have standard blackboards. Many of the boards we use are small or very old.”
So far, neither protests by women and girls in Afghanistan nor pressure from outside the country have changed the Taliban’s opinion about reopening girls’ schools. However, setting up online training for girls and girls’ training centers away from the eyes of the Taliban inside Afghanistan has been part of the efforts to keep education going and some hope for the girls denied an education.
Gulziwar Fakuri, 26, is another teacher of the center. With her friends, she wants to keep the cycle of learning and education active in Bamyan.
Gulziwar says when she teaches the students, she feels full of happiness.
“On the one hand, with the arrival of the Taliban, the opportunities to work were more limited. This made me very disappointed and unmotivated,” she says. “But when this center was established and I started teaching lessons for girls, my enthusiasm and interest has increased day by day and I am more motivated.”
Her only regret is that they didn’t start it earlier.
Like her four colleagues, Gulziwar is a university graduate, but she is reluctant to provide details about her university and major for fear of being identified.
There are some challenges to running the center. Apart from not receiving a salary, there is also the fact there is not enough money to heat the classrooms and supplies come from the teachers own pockets.
“Our markers run out of ink every day and it is problematic for us to buy them at our own expense.”
Basgul, 15, is one of the students at the center. She says that since she has been going, her hope has been revived after what she says was the nightmare of having her school closed and being forced to stay at home.
“We are very happy,” she says. “This center was a very serious and fundamental need.”
Most of the basic subjects such as chemistry, math, physics, and English language are covered in the classes.
Another student, Simin, 15, says that she likes physics, chemistry, and English more the most. However, she is worried about the impending winter and the lack of facilities. But she says, “I am sure that our teachers will solve the problem.”
Before the arrival of the Taliban, Simin was in grade 7. She thought when her school was closed, all her dreams were lost.
“When the female teachers established the educational, it was like a huge gift for us, we are really happy,” she says.