“When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”
The use of this old African proverb by the village elder, Abdul Malik Khan, spoke volumes about his commitment to working towards better access to education for girls in his locality. Girls like Nadia* (aged 12) from rural Arabshah, a village in Faryab Province, Afghanistan, for whom the establishment of a community-based school in the area has had a profoundly positive impact.
Nadia is one of five children with parents who are both illiterate. Her unemployed father is also very ill, compounding the difficulties of their situation. Twelve years ago, due to the insecure situation in Khancharbagh district, the family were forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan. Upon their return nine years later, despite a wish to send their daughter to school, Nadia’s parents could not afford to buy school items and kits, nor could they pay the costly travel expenses given that the nearest school was over 3km away, too far for Nadia to easily walk. Even without these obstacles, Nadia would have had to attend a class with much younger girls, putting her at considerable disadvantage. The situation seemed hopeless.
In 2017, the direction of Nadia’s life changed. The community mobilisation team established the area’s first community-based education (CBE) class in Arabshah. Nadia’s mother, Fatima, was delighted by this:
“Despite our efforts we could not enroll Nadia in school. Fortunately, one day Zara from the STAGES project came into our house and informed me about the new CBE class in this community. I was happy to hear this news and immediately enrolled my daughter in to the established class.”
Before the establishment of the CBE class, girls like Nadia could only hope for a chance at a comprehensive education. She recounts how envious she had once been of the girls who were able to attend school and how excited she was to learn about the new class:
“When I saw the girls going to school, I dreamt of joining school and being like them. Unfortunately, my parents could not afford to buy me stationery, notebooks and books due to financial problems. Since I could not afford to go to school, I attended Islamic Sessions at a local Mosque lead by Mullah Imam. When I heard that STAGES was going to establish the class in our community, I could not believe it. It was the happiest moment in my life which I will never forget.”
Indeed, she was not the only one who was enthused by the opportunity – Nadia attests that on learning about the establishment of the school she “immediately informed all my friends”, who were equally excited about the possibilities that a quality education would open up to them.
The STAGES II programme, funded by UK Aid through the Girls’ Education Challenge, runs in 16 provinces in Afghanistan through the dedicated work of several organisations working in partnership. In Nadia's home district, Khancharbagh, one of the consortium partners, works to provide educational opportunities to more than five hundred girls. By establishing community schools in local areas, providing resources and libraries, training more and more female teachers and engaging with Shuras (religious consultation groups) and the local community about the benefits of educating young women, these organisations have brought together more than 400,000 Afghan people in over 1,000 communities to help improve girls’ education since 2013. This includes over 215,000 girls and 175,000 boys, and more than 5,000 teachers.**
Of course, there is more work to be done, with an estimated 3.5 million children in Afghanistan still without access to a formal education and 60% of them girls. There are many others just like Nadia who given the opportunity could go on to become even greater assets to their community, and able to make better, smarter decisions that benefit everyone. At least in Arabshah, this is less of a problem, as Shura leader Abdul Malik Khan confirms:
“Due to limited number of schools nearby, lack of female teachers or financial problems, a large number of girls still remain without education. Fortunately, the project has established classes in our communities and contributed to the educational opportunities of our daughters.”
Nadia is now in Grade 2 and has become a star pupil. Her teacher, Mrs. Shah, spoke very highly of her abilities as a student:
“Nadia is one of the most intelligent, enthusiastic and active students, and is so interested to learn to read and write. She was also taking additional lessons for an hour every day. Now, she can speak in three languages – Dari, Uzbeki and Urdu. As a result, she has the highest scores in the class. She always helps her classmates with their classwork.”
It could so easily have been the case that Nadia’s talents lay dormant for her whole life, but thankfully that is not the case, and she stands as a testament to the value of educating girls and young women. And yet, even with a new raft of opportunities at her disposal, Nadia’s humble wish is to use her education to help other girls like her realise their dreams, since she plans to go into teaching:
“There are many girls like me who are deprived of education and there are very limited number of teachers, especially female teachers, therefore, I want to complete my study and become a successful teacher to teach girls in my community and make their dream come true.”
It would seem the old adage in this case is indeed correct – educating a girl and educating a nation are one and the same.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the girl
**The figures quoted are taken from cross-consortium methodology, including enrolment records and internal logframes. STAGES II builds on the success of the STAGES I programme, which ran between 2013 and 2017.