An Afghan Girl's Hope
The 437 Afghan children who attend Fatima Zahra School know all about keeping the flame of hope alive, as most were born in refugee camps and settlements in Pakistan after their families were forced to flee conflict in Afghanistan. Some, like Safia, say their families are preparing to return, but many admit that they are scared about leaving the only home they’ve known.
“Going to Kabul is going to be a big move because I have lived in Pakistan all my life,” admits Safia. “My home, my friends and my school are all here and I will miss them. But my ambition to become a doctor is very strong, and for that I am willing to start life afresh in Afghanistan.”
‘I Want to Help…’
Safia hopes to build on the education she gained in Pakistan while attending one of the 27 schools run by the International Rescue Committee. The schools serve about 14,000 Afghan primary and secondary pupils. Each is officially registered with the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan, and the overall curriculum is based on the Afghan system.
Safia is secure in the knowledge that her certificates from Pakistan will be accredited in Afghanistan, allowing her to reintegrate easily into the Afghan system of education.
“I want to help my people because they still need so much,” says Safia, a star student, “There aren’t many doctors in my country, so this is something I want to do.”
All IRC schools are equipped with laboratories to give students practical demonstrations in chemistry, physics and biology, although Safia squeamishly admits she didn’t enjoy the day she had to “dissect a frog!” Mobile libraries increase literacy rates and general knowledge among students, as well as encourage a love of reading.
Fatima Zahra gave Safia the opportunity to study in an environment that promotes extra-curricular activities. Safia is also lucky to have a family that supports her career pursuits. Education for girls is not a top priority for many Afghan families, who often expect girls to stay home. The IRC has made extra efforts to boost female enrollment in its schools, but the headmistress of Fatima Zahra remembers the early days.
“When we first started, we had just four or five girls coming to the school and it was very difficult,” says Khadija Wahid. “But we have talked to the community over the years and got them more involved in running the school. We’ve also employrd female teachers, which encourages parents to feel safe about letting their girls come here. Today, more than half our students as well as our teachers are female.”
Teachers Make a Difference
To ensure that the teachers in Safia’s school are up-to-date, IRC provides training on a variety of topics from school management to basic teaching methodologies and child-friendly approaches. Teachers can use IRC-developed training manuals in subjects like math and science, and they also receive advice on health education and hygiene promotion.
“Teacher training is a vital part of IRC’s programming, and we have trained more than 8,000 teachers over the past 14 years,” says program coordinator Jumma Khan. “We want to improve the quality of education in our Pakistan schools and, more importantly, we want to boost employment opportunities for teachers when they repatriate to Afghanistan."
Fatima Zahra is one of 27 schools run by the International Rescue Committee’s Female Education Program in camps and urban settlements of North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. The schools provide primary and secondary education to 14,000 children, of whom 65 percent are girls, and employ about 500 teachers.