Sunday, July 15, 2007

3 Cups of Tea

I just finished reading 3 Cups of Tea. It's such a powerful story. No big companies, no governments. Just the work of one guy who saw a human need and wanted to help and to say thank you for being helped. Of course it's grown a bit, so now there is a team of dedicated people. But it's still about local communites and families, wanting something better for their kids and do what ever they can to provide them with some education.

Our schools here in Alaska constantly beg the taxpayers for more & more money. It's always a guilt trip at funding time. Always 'the kids must have ...'. And we struggle to keep our kids in school. So many drop outs. I sometimes think it's too bad that school isn't something to be earned. What's given isn't always appreciated as much as what's earned.

And then there are articles like this one in the Scotsman today.

Can you imagine what it takes to send your kids to school under these conditions. No school building, no books, and facing the potential of being shot, just because they're trying to learn.

Schoolgirls in the gunsights of the Taliban
WITH their teacher absent, 10 students were allowed to leave school early. These were the girls the gunmen saw first, 10 easy targets walking hand-in-hand through the blue metal gate and on to the winding dirt road.
A 13-year-old named Shukria was shot in the arm and the back, and teetered into an adjacent wheat field. Zarmina, her 12-year-old sister, ran to her side, listening to the wounded girl's precious breath and trying to help her stand. But Shukria was too heavy to lift and the two gunmen, sitting astride a single motorbike, sped closer.
As Zarmina scurried away, the men took a more studied aim at those they had already shot, finishing off Shukria with bullets to her stomach and heart. Then the attackers seemed to succumb to the frenzy they had begun, forsaking the motorbike and fleeing on foot in a panic, two bobbing heads - one tucked into a helmet, the other swaddled by a handkerchief - vanishing amid the earthen colour of the concealing wheat.
Six girls were shot here on the sunny afternoon last month; two of them died.
The Qalai Sayedan School, considered among the best in the central Afghan province of Logar, reopened only last weekend, but even with Kalashnikov-toting guards at the gate only a quarter of the 1,600 students dared to return. Shootings, beheadings, burnings and bombings are all tools of intimidation used by the Taliban and others to shut down hundreds of schools. To take aim at education is to make war on the government. Parents find themselves with terrible choices.
"It is better for my children to be alive even if it means they must be illiterate," said Sayed Rasul, a father who decided to keep his two daughters at home.
There has been some progress towards development in Afghanistan, but most often the nation seems astride some pitiable rocking horse, with each lurch forward inevitably reversed by the back-spring of harsh reality.
The Ministry of Education claims that 6.2 million children are now enrolled - about half the school-aged population. And while statistics in Afghanistan can be unreliable, there is no doubt that attendance has multiplied far beyond that of any earlier era.
A third of the students are girls, a marvel in itself. Historically, girls' education has been undervalued in Afghan culture. Females were forbidden from school altogether during the Taliban rule.
But after 30 years of war, Afghanistan is a country without normal times to reclaim; in so many ways, it must start from scratch. The accelerating demand for education is mocked by the limited supply. More than half the schools have no buildings, the ministry reports; classes are commonly held in tents or beneath trees or in the brutal, sun-soaked openness. Only 20% of the teachers are even minimally qualified. Texts are outdated; hundreds of titles need to be written, millions of books need to be printed.
And there is the violence. In the southern provinces where the Taliban are most aggressively combating US and Nato troops, education has virtually come to a halt in large swathes of the contested terrain. In other areas, attacks against schools are sporadic, unpredictable and perplexing. By the ministry's rough count, there have been 444 attacks since last August. Some were simple thefts. Some were audacious murders.
"By attacking schools, the terrorists want to turn the people against the government by showing that it has not provided for security," said Haneef Atmar, the minister of education.
Atmar is the nation's fifth education minister in five-and-a-half years, but only the first to command the solid enthusiasm of international donors. He came to the job after a praiseworthy showing as the minister of rural redevelopment and has laid out an ambitious five-year plan for school construction, teacher training and a modernised curriculum. He is also championing a parallel track of madrassas, or religious schools; students would focus on Islamic studies, while also pursuing science, maths and the arts.
To succeed, the minister must be a magnet for foreign cash. And donors have not been unusually generous when it comes to schools. Since the fall of the Taliban, the US Agency for International Development has devoted only 5% of its Afghanistan budget to education, compared with 30% for roads and 14% for power.
Virtually every Afghan school is a sketchbook of extraordinary destitution. "I have 68 girls in this tent," said Nafisa Wardak, a primary school teacher at the Deh Araban Qaragha School in Kabul. "We're hot. The tent is full of flies. The wind blows sand and rubbish everywhere. If a child gets sick, where can I send her?"
The nation's overwhelming need for walled classrooms makes the murders in Qalai Sayedan all the more tragic.
The school welcomed boys and girls. It was overcrowded, with the 1,600 students attending in two shifts, stuffed into 12 classrooms and a corridor.
But the building itself was exactly that - two stories of concrete with a roof of galvanised steel. Two years ago, Qalai Sayedan was named the top school in the province. Its principal, Bibi Gul, was saluted for excellence and rewarded with a trip to America. But last month's attack caused parents to wonder if the school's stalwart reputation had itself become a source of provocation.
In the embassies of the West, and even within the education ministry in Kabul, the Taliban are commonly discussed as a monolithic adversary. But to the villagers near Qalai Sayedan, with the lives of their children at risk, people see the government's enemies as a varied lot with assorted grievances, assorted tribal connections and assorted masters. Has someone at the school provided great offence, villagers ask. Is the school believed to be un-Islamic? Many blame Bibi Gul, the principal.
"She should not have gone to America without the consultation of the community," said Sayed Abdul Sami, the uncle of Saadia, the other slain student. "And she went to America without a mahram [a male relative], and this is considered improper in Islam."
Off the main highway, 330 feet up the winding dirt road and through the blue metal gate, sits the school. It was built four years ago by the German government.
On Monday, Bibi Gul greeted hundreds of children as they fidgeted in the morning light: "Dear boys and brave girls, thank you for coming. The enemy has done its evil deeds, but we will never allow the doors of this school to close again."
These would be among her final moments as their principal. She had already resigned. "My heart is crying," she said privately. "But I must leave because of everything that people say. They say I received letters warning about the attacks. But that isn't so. And people say I am a foreigner because I went to the United States without a mahram. We were 12 people. I'm 42. I don't need to travel with a mahram."
Shukria, the slain 13-year-old, was a polite girl who reverently studied the Koran. Saadia, the other murdered student, was remarkable in that she was married and 25. She had refused to let age discourage her from finishing an education interrupted by the Taliban years.
A new sign now sits atop the steel roof. The Qalia Sayedan School has been renamed the Martyred Saadia School. Another place will be called Martyred Shukria.
Life as a second class citizen
Although the power of the Taliban has been greatly reduced in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion, slowly but surely their influence, especially in the tribal south, is returning.
• In Badakshan, all women must get permission from their husbands before being allowed to visit a doctor.
• Women teachers are regularly subjected to beatings and assaults from roaming Taliban gangs.
• Mothers who send their children to school are also targeted by the thugs, who try to intimidate them into keeping their youngsters at home.
• Forced marriages and domestic violence feature regularly in the lives of many women who live in the south and eastern provinces of the country.
• Although more women are working in the media now, they are under constant threat. Shaima Rezayee, a popular MTV-style presenter, was shot dead after receiving death threats in 2006.
This article:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.