Hundreds of them are seen in the course of the 120km journey. This is their
way of begging.
The Taliban's pariah status has obscured the misery of ordinary Afghans in the
war in which their country has been embroiled since the Soviet invasion of 1979. One of
the results of the war was the immense flood of Afghan refugees into neighbouring Pakistan
- estimated at three and a half million, of which 2.2 million were concentrated around
Peshawar. Though many have been repatriated, 1.2 million remain.
Pakistan's education system does an inadequate job of educating even its own
citizens; Afghan refugees are lucky to get a look-in. So to provide the beginnings of a
solution for the refugees, a non-governmental organisation, called AG BAS-Ed, has set up a
school in Peshawar to educate Afghani girls. War Child supports it, paying the rent for
the building, and the costs of textbooks and teaching staff and utilities.
Girls are the ones who are most in need. Although before the civil war Kabul
was a relatively modernised city where many girls went to school and many women worked,
war and fundamentalism have driven Afghan women back to the dark ages. Unicef estimates
that female literacy in Afghanistan today is just 15 per cent, the fifth -lowest in the
world. Only 11 per cent of girls attend primary school. Esmat Girls' School offers
hundreds of refugees the glimmer of a chance. Set up two years ago in a converted house on
a narrow back street in the Shaheen district, it quickly became a busy, flourishing place.
Close to 600 students squeeze into the school in two shifts, grades one to four in the
morning and five to twelve in the afternoon, taught by 24 teachers.
Pressure on the two (out of a total of three) lavatories reserved for students
is heavy. "There are some odours in two of the classrooms with attached bathrooms due
to the extensive use of the facilities," a recent inspector pointed out primly -
though with War Child's assistance the principal hopes to relieve the crush soon with
three small outdoor lavatories.
Lavatories apart, practically every space in and around the house is pressed
into service for teaching: classes are held in the garages and the backyard and in tents
on the roof as well as in the rooms of the house.
But still parents batter on the doors, pleading for their children to be
admitted. If three classrooms are built on the roof - the same inspector who made the
point about the lavatories felt this would be feasible - fewer of them would have to be
The hunger of Afghans for learning is approaching desperation. In Kabul, now a
place of ruins ruled by philistines, even the children of the middle class elite are at
their wits' end; attending medical classes, for example, in the wreckage of Kabul
University where no real work can be done because all the laboratory equipment has been
In Peshawar's teeming refugee camps, where refugees struggle to make a paltry
living as fruit sellers or labourers, the position is far worse.
Esmat Girls' School is making a difference. A recent War Child report says:
"Pupils come from a variety of backgrounds, but all now live in impoverished
circumstances and share a common history of suffering caused by Afghanistan's war. The
devotion of the school staff is an inspiration... Pupils are keen to learn, hoping to
become doctors and teachers."
As one Afghan woman remarked: "Afghanistan without educated women is like
a bird with only one wing."
CHILDREN & WAR: THE AFGHAN FILE
TWENTY YEARS of armed conflict have devastated the lives of Afghan
children. Girls, and boys, have suffered rape and sexual assault. About 10
million landmines have been laid.
An average of seven children are killed by landmines each day. There are
more than two million Afghan refugees - the largest single refugee group in the
world. Four million children have died from illness. Literacy rates have
dropped to 4 per cent for women and girls. Source: Amnesty International
Mir H. Sadat, Financial Controller School of Humanities & Social Sciences
California State University, Fullerton Dean's Staff, Room MH-115 Fullerton, California
92834-6850 U.S.A. Telephone: 714-278-5026 Fax: 714-278-5898 E-mail: email@example.com
"The university's characteristic state may be summarized by the words of
the lady who said, 'I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy
something.'" Christian Science Monitor, Nov 25th 1986