At 12, in her sixth grade class, Mursal is the only child. All the other women–and several of the children–have fallen out over the years to help with household responsibilities, start work, or get married.
It wasn’t easy, but Mursal managed to stay in class.
Her class moved out of tents just recently, which had to be constantly patched due to rain, snow and wind disruption. The tents were crowded and damaged constantly. Classes had to be postponed for three days at one point during the winter because rain and snow would wash into the tents and turn the dirt under them into slippery mud.
Mursal and her classmates are now sitting under a mulberry tree on a plain tapestry while their teacher is going through their Pashto multiplication tables.
“I love Science and English,” she says as the wind sends dirt gusts into the faces of the 520 students gathered in the field that houses this school of improvisation. The fact that, despite being forced to study in tents and open fields, Mursal has made it so far into her education is quite an achievement. Although Qarabagh is located 200 kilometers southwest of Kabul city, it faces serious security challenges.
In reality, the difficulties faced by Mursal and the other school students— including 200 other girls — represents several other issues plaguing Afghanistan’s education system.
Last year, UNICEF reported that at least 2.7 million women were out of school of the 3.7 million Afghan school-age children. Globally, seven refugee girls were enrolled at the secondary level for every 10 refugee children.
Mursal knows she’s been lucky, several of her classmates have been taken out of school to marry, while others have had to start contributing to household chores. Girls are often the first students to be expelled from school in other parts of the country when the security situation deteriorates.
The mixture of cultural expectations and poor security had a detrimental effect on the country’s education. A 2016 survey conducted by the Central Statistics Office of the European Union and Afghanistan found that only 21.7% of women are either enrolled in formal or informal education.
That’s why the support of the Mursal family is so significant. Not only her parents encourage Mursal to pursue an education, but one of her greatest supporters is her friend, Fahimullah, who had to leave school to work as a day labourer.
He’s proud that his little sister has the opportunity to pursue her dreams, something he couldn’t do himself. He was in 11th grade when his parents told him that thousands of young Afghans would hear each day— they had to contribute to the household expenses of the family.
What Fahimullah and other members of the Aka Khail community now want is for the village’s kids to finally study with proper desks and chairs in free, comfortable classrooms.
The most powerful way for them to achieve self-reliance is to engage in the education of refugees, the internally displaced, and those returning to their homelands. It is also essential to their country’s future success, or the places where they have been received.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is currently working on building a school building that would expand student capacity from 520 to some 1,000 local boys and girls.
Malyar, 23, is one of the school’s only three correct teachers.
He and the other teachers approached parents in the area on several occasions to send their boys and girls to class, but they always received the same response.
“You’re asking,’ Which school? Why should we bring them out in the open for the mud and rain and heat to get sick?Malyar accepts a fusion payment of 6,000 Afghans (US$ 77) to teach the students, but he says he is willing to do so to support his family, which the Kabul government has long neglected.
“If we work for these kids as adults, they could become the doctor or the attorney or the engineer who is going to fix this country,” he says.
In the next three months, the school building should be open.
“This is our nation in Afghanistan. We need to build a proper class, and we’d all sacrifice everything for that, “says Fahimullah, watching his little sister repeat math equations in Pashto proudly.
A high-level conference in Geneva in December, the Global Refugee Forum will bring together the private sector, humanitarian and development organizations, as well as governments. This seeks to promote a collective response to refugee crises, including the development of innovative and effective ways to support refugee education in countries such as Afghanistan.