BAMIYAN, Afghanistan (June 25, 2012) — It’s a long walk down a steep hill for 37-year-old Abdullah and his three daughters as they head to the local mosque that doubles as a makeshift school.
With no other schools nearby, Abdullah's daughters and nearly 180 children of the village share space in the mosque, sitting on the floor, studying and learning for hours every day with no desks or chairs, just a few blackboards and dedicated teachers. The nearest school is a few miles away and many children, especially the young ones, prefer to go to the local mosque or not go to school at all.
But now there is good news: Abdullah has donated a large chunk of his land to the community for a school. With generous donations from the Government of Japan, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education in building a child-friendly school.
Abdullah makes sure that all of his six children attend school, something he and his siblings were unable to do. So passionate is he about education that over the years this poor farmer has sold off nearly all his stock and large parts of his property to ensure his children would not miss a day of school. He also funds the education of his two nephews.
He is now excited about the new construction and wants his children and the children of the village to get the best education possible.
"I donated this land for construction of a school because I never got an opportunity to attend school myself. I worked as a shepherd and have lived a hard life. Now I am proud of my children and the children of the community as they can continue their education. I don't want these children to lead the hard life that I led,” he said.
There are not many roads in these remote areas of Afghanistan, and schools are few and far between. Children either study in open spaces or makeshift classrooms, and many of them drop out, often because schools are too remote or because they lack separate toilets for girls.
In partnership with the local communities and funding from the Japanese government, UNICEF is helping the Ministry of Education build schools in Bamiyan, Daikundy and Ghor, three difficult-to-reach highland provinces. These schools will provide students with proper classrooms, trained teachers, writing materials, hygienic environments, girls’ toilets and clean drinking water, some of the basic essentials that make these schools
Once the project is completed, 50,560 children are expected to have access to primary education in these disadvantaged provinces.
Construction has already started. Once operational, these schools will ensure that young students, especially those in primary classes who cannot walk long distances to other villages, have access to a proper school close to home. Better facilities with more female teachers will also mean a reduction in school drop-outs, especially among girls.
Thanks to such efforts, Afghanistan has already seen a significant increase in the numbers of children attending school, from less than 1 million in 2001 to around 8.3 million today, according to the Ministry of Education’s Education Management Information System. Still, a big gap persists, with nearly 4.3 million children in Afghanistan remaining out of school.
Ahmad Raza Ada, Director of the Department of Education in Bamiyan, attributes high rates of out-of-school children to lack of schools in the region. "There are no classrooms, and children study under trees or in tents or in rented houses. Constructing new schools will attract more children. Also if the schools are built keeping in mind the needs of girls, more girl students will enroll," he said.
Back in Abdullah's village, the community elders got together to discuss the building of the new school. There was excitement in the village, with some calling Abdullah a local hero. As for Abdullah, his dream of a nearby school is about to come true.