Girls long to learn at school for refugees

THE GANGS of men on the road from the Afghan capital, Kabul, to Peshawar in Pakistan are not, as first appears, mending the suspension- shattering surface with their spades and picks. That is a charade: they are just going through the motions.

And nor are the "men" in the gangs fully grown. The biggest are in their early teens; some are as young as five or six.

These are the war children of Afghanistan.

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 turned away.

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 destroyed.

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

n TWENTY YEARS of armed conflict have devastated the lives of Afghan children.

n Girls, and boys, have suffered rape and sexual assault.

n About 10 million landmines have been laid. An average of seven children are killed by landmines each day.

n There are more than two million Afghan refugees - the largest single refugee group in the world.

n Four million children have died from illness.

n Literacy rates have dropped to 4 per cent for women and girls.

Source: Amnesty International

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
people>Her debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam