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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 5, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 5Oakland, CA

Millions more Afghans in school

A fourth-grade Afghan girl attends school in a village in Paghman, Afghanistan. Catholic Relief Services is supporting primary education for children in mainly rural areas of Afghanistan.
CNS photo/courtesy of Catholic Relief Services
Afghan children play on swings hanging from an electricity pylon on the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, last year. Makeshift schools are springing up throughout the country.
CNS PHOTO/AHMAD MASOOD/REUTERS

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Around four million more Afghan children are now going to school than in 2001, said Sara Bowers, head of the education program for Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency.

Most Afghan children – including girls – attend school in a home, where they sit on the floor during lessons by a teacher. They “love to draw” so the makeshift classrooms are “colorful places,” Bowers said.

“They are attentive, eager. You don’t find the kind of goofing-off that you find” in the United States.
Bibi Qamer, a 23-year-old Muslim from Afghanistan who has been working for CRS since 2002, said girls and women are eager for education.

“The Taliban didn’t allow girls to go to school,” Qamer said, but now “they are very happy building for their future.”

Qamer and Bowers were in the United States last month to talk to diocesan groups about CRS programs in Afghanistan.

Generations of Afghans have never been educated formally. Training teachers and women, who had been excluded from formal education throughout much of the 1990s while the Taliban was in power, is part of CRS’ education program.

Paul Hicks, head of programs for CRS in Afghanistan, said the country’s Ministry of Education has been practically nonexistent because of decades of internal and external conflicts.

The poorly functioning bureaucracy of the ministry makes it difficult to efficiently and quickly implement a federal education policy, Hicks said.

“Many people have expectations to see development happen fast,” said Hicks. “Rehabilitation gives an idea that there is something to fix up,” which is not the case in Afghanistan.

CRS also sponsors agricultural initiatives and water resources programs to help the country’s slow process of development. Though farming opium-producing poppy seeds is lucrative, many farmers diversify their crops and “are very receptive to working with products other than poppy,” Hicks said.

In the city of Herat, near the border with Iran, women have been marketing tomato paste and jam to shop owners. The women have been successful in gaining the men’s acceptance and convincing shop owners to sell their products over Iranian imports, said Qamer.

However, Hicks said, no crop is a “silver bullet” for quick agricultural success. Afghanistan “requires investments for fruit and nut industries” over the course of years for long-term success, he added.

Farmers must have confidence “that economic gro wth is possible,” he said. “A lot of farmers fear that the international community will leave.”

U.S.-led forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001. Military action successfully toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, but U.S. President George W. Bush said Feb. 15 that increased violence is expected in the spring, and he called for more NATO troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

 


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