Monday, May 25, 2009

Building a Model School in Afghanistan

We drove through the mountains to Jalalabad today. It was beautiful. It took four hours instead of two because the road was clogged with trucks-- evidence of heavy international aid as the UN and NATO work to rebuild Jalalabad after decades of war. We had been told there was a risk of roadside bombs, and we were so close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that our host offered to take us over and back (legally, of course).

We visited government, private, and NGO-organized (non-governmental) schools in Jalalabad. My friend Umaimah, another Harvard graduate student, and her friend Mona are considering opening a school there through their organization Dreamfly.

The responsiveness and enthusiasm that Dreamfly is receiving is surprising. Umaimah and Mona only thought they would start Dreamfly's second school in Afghanistan, but the Afghans have taken it on as much more. Everyone from our host NGO to the Minister of Education has dubbed it the "model school" project.

The schools were depressing. Jalalabad is evidence of how Afghans are struggling to build their nation from scratch. The government
school consisted of boys studying under trees, on prayer rugs. The school had over 1000 students. It turns out that 60% of Afghanistan's schools do not have permanent buildings.

We interviewed the kids at the private school, asking them what they hoped to be someday. They all responded excitedly: doctors, engineers, teachers, even President.
(Watch out Karzai.) If these kids can beat the odds and fulfill their dreams, then maybe a stable, prosperous, self-sufficient Afghanistan is within reach. The generation of leaders that Afghanistan needs might be on the rise.
But they will need much more help-- not more dollars, but more effectiveness. Seven percent of the world's children who are out of school are in Afghanistan.

There are some very sincere, approachable, and committed
people in Afghan Education Ministry. But given the massive foreign assistance and attention that Afghanistan receives, their continuing struggle with basic education, and their excitement about a Harvard graduate student who has chanced upon the country, I can't help but wonder if the international community is engaging the country in the most direct, obvious, and important ways.


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  2. Your description of Pakistan is exilerating. The contrasts that you talk of are solidly ingrained me because I too am a Pakistani turned American torn between two places. Because of my conversion, it makes it difficult for me to see my culture through any eyes but that of an American made Poloroid. Returning to pakistan after being washed and purified in Ivy League education has shown me exactly how filthy Pakistan is. However, when I began to see the importing of the best ideals of the west into Pakistan, exemplified by areas such as Defence (lewd parties and lavish spending and more revealing dress) I too began to identify myself better with Pakistan. Now I felt that it was going in a good direction, and at first I wanted to stay, badly. But then I realized what was evident all along, I am American and the land of my forefathers awaits me, a land where lives were lost so that I can be part of Kennedy School of Government and feel important by writing this blog.