• 14 Jul, 2024

The biggest challenge in educating girls and women in Afghanistan is not security threats or poor internet connection, but desperation.

Mariam Ahmadi
Nicknames for Afghan peace activists and feminists

I have sent the link and am waiting for students to join the Zoom session. I teach them English. I was notified that the students were in the waiting room. I smiled widely and greeted them in English.

I don't have my camera on for security reasons, so I know I can't see my smile. But I know I can hear my voice. I know I have to do everything I can to encourage my students. And I have to do it for me. Starting in 2021, we had to fight two enemies.

The Taliban's ban on secondary and higher education for girls and women and the hopelessness and despair slowly creeping up on us.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the ban left an estimated 2.5 million girls and young women out of school. Every third young girl was enrolled before the college closed. About 100,000 people gave up on their dream of getting the degree they wanted. In addition, the Taliban denied students the right to study abroad. Islamic scholars have repeatedly said and emphasized that this prohibition has no basis in our religion.

It also doesn't make economic sense. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that keeping girls out of secondary education costs Afghanistan's economy about $500 million a year.

The Taliban government has refused to change its decision, despite repeated requests from international organizations and institutions. Afghan women and girls refused to give up.

The need and desire for education were so great that shortly after the ban was imposed, some teachers got together and organized online classes. At first, it was a small group with only a few students. I came to them a year and a half ago. We teach English as well as all secondary school subjects and some additional courses such as computer skills.

Word spread about our course and more students attended. By 2023, we have reached 400 students from all over Afghanistan.

I feel blessed to be able to help my family a little financially and help other young women and girls who want to study and learn. I completed my studies at Teachers College in 2021. I took the course with no intention of becoming a teacher. My dear father suggested I do this and I followed his advice.

The center taught me how to approach education in different ways and how to interact with students to help them learn better. However, most of what I learned can only be applied in general situations where teachers and students are together in a classroom and don't suffer from poor internet connections.

So when I started teaching online, it was a bit difficult. I struggled and often considered giving up, but my students' desire to learn kept me going and I found a way to do it. “Every time I thought I couldn't, you showed me that I could. "You are the best role model in my life." This is a letter a student recently sent me. Messages like these warm my heart and motivate me to keep going.

But there are also difficult questions that are difficult to answer. “Master, if I could go to school now, I would graduate in two years. But that would be pointless because I wouldn't be able to go to college. Or maybe once you graduate from college you'll never be useful again because you won't be able to work. So why study now? Another student asked me recently. It was a heartbreaking question. I think many girls all over the country are asking themselves this question.

The prison-like conditions in which Afghan women and girls live lead to many mental health problems. According to the statistics of medical institutions, the number of suicide and attempted murder cases among Afghan women is increasing rapidly. Many people have no hope for the future. I see this hope in my students. I am often forced to take on the role of counselor and listen to stories of pain and depression.

Some of my students have told me that they were teased or criticized for what happened to them. I worked hard and dreamed big, but it all fell apart.

Hearing and knowing what students are going through makes teaching difficult. But I know I can't give up and I have to keep going for them. I always try to motivate them, lift their spirits, and instill in them a love for learning and research. I share inspiring stories and biographies of amazing people from around the world.

I ask them to list their dreams and goals, plans for the future, and anything else that gives them hope and motivation. I strive to help young students discover their talents. I ask them to write a story, a poem, or draw a picture.

We try to break out of prison through learning and creativity. Together with other teachers, we will do everything we can to ensure that Afghan girls and young women do not give up hope. But we need support.

If the United Nations and international organizations could help formalize the education we provide and establish mechanisms to provide valid documentation to attest to the degrees obtained, it would make a huge difference to our students. This will help encourage young women and girls and reduce their anxiety that they are wasting their lives. Things in life don't often go as planned.

I never thought I would become a teacher, especially secretly.

But I teach online, fight against unjust bans, and try to help desperate Afghan girls and women.

It's a job I never wanted, but I love it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the editorial position of Voice of Urdu.