These schoolgirls in Afghanistan are determined to get an education – no matter the obstacles.
The challenges they face are significant. Not only do many Afghan girls grow up in remote villages without schools, all girls over the age of 12 are now barred from formal education — one of the many ways women and girls have been pushed to the margins of Afghan society since the change in power last August.
Girls like Bibi Aisha, Lialoma, Zahra, Marzia, Sana and their families are also caught in the growing economic and hunger crisis that is making life more difficult for nearly all Afghans.
Still, these five intrepid girls continue to dream big, trekking each day to math and literacy classes the International Rescue Committee (IRC) offers to children up to sixth grade who are unable to access schools, with the support of the European Union (EU). These informal courses are available six days a week across five Afghan provinces.
Below, meet the five girls and learn what motivates them to continue learning.
Bibi Aisha, 9, has been attending IRC-run courses since they began three months ago and never misses a class. “My teachers and my books are my best friends,” she says.
Bibi Aisha is from a village in the Logar province of Afghanistan. Prior to the IRC’s program, the village did not have a school she could attend.
“My mother and my sisters encourage me to get an education,” says Bibi Aisha, who hopes to be a teacher. “I have to study more and love my lessons [in order] to become a teacher.”
Lialoma, 9, wants to grow up to be a doctor, engineer or pilot. She attends the IRC-run classes six times a week and enjoys playing with Razima, her best friend there. “The teachers praise us with nice words and clap for us,” she says.
“I hate war,” Lialoma says when asked about her hopes for the future. “I want to have a good life.”
At just 7 years old, Zarha walks to school six days a week in order to attend the IRC-run classes.
“Our way to school is difficult because children are throwing stones at us,” she says. Zarha and her best friend Amina also face dangerous traffic and sometimes flooded roads.
“I want to be an engineer, because I want to serve my country,” says Zarha. “I want to draw and build beautiful houses to serve our people because most people live in tents and I want them to live in houses.
“I want my people to be at peace.”
Sana, 9, has been attending IRC classes for three months. She loves school because of her classmates — her best friend Soraya is there — and the kindness of her teacher.
“I want to finish school and start university,” she told the IRC of her eagerness to keep learning. “When I grow up, I want to become a teacher and serve the country. I come to class every day to study hard.”
Marzia, 12, wishes for a proper school to be built in her community. “Our school has one classroom and there is one teacher for all students and different subjects,” she explains.
Marzia’s parents continue to motivate her to study by buying her pens, notebooks and other school supplies, while her teachers give her motivation by praising her or encouraging her to review her lessons.
“My parents and my grandfather want me to become a doctor,” Marzia says. “I want to be a doctor because doctors are treating people — I have to study hard and get higher education to achieve this goal.”
The IRC in Afghanistan
In the last twelve months, the IRC has doubled-down on its commitments to the Afghan people. Our staff — 99 percent of them Afghans themselves — are now operating across 12 provinces. In partnership with the EU, they provide vital health services, education and support for women and girls in communities where we have developed deep relationships with community leaders. At the same time, our teams have tirelessly advocated for the inclusion of women in the humanitarian response and the IRC has maintained a staff body comprising 40% Afghan women.
The International Rescue Committee partners with the European Union to provide life-saving support to people caught in conflict and disasters around the world. Our work funded by the EU enables people to survive, recover and rebuild their lives.