A Visit to an All-Girls School

Outside exterior of girls classroom.

Judging by the picture, it appears to be a nondescript worn out tent previously donated by UNICEF several years ago.  The tent has holes in its roof and the cloth sides are

Looking inside the girls' classroom.

badly deteriorating held together by dry-rotting rope attached to a metal pipe frame.  But upon closer inspection, I witnessed a flurry of activity occurring inside this raggedy structure.  This tent was one of several I have seen today.  Due to lack of space inside the adjacent concrete structures, they serve as outdoor classrooms for the

Army Major helps sort items.

attending students.  What made today’s mission special is that all of these school students are girls!

I have waited all year for this unique opportunity and today it finally came to fruition.  To be able to deliver my school supplies and defy the Taliban who violently oppose female education was a bitter sweet moment.  In this small victory of defiance, bullets and bombs were replaced by pencils, pens, and notebooks as my arsenal of weapons.

A day prior to this visit, the Combined Transition Advisory Group (CTAG) team assisted me in segregating my mountain of boxed school supplies.  The female AF Lt Col in charge offered her people to help me out with this

French Officer holds stack of notebooks.

laborious task.  Previously, I would spend a few hours a day by myself sorting through the various boxes.  But now with a dozen people at my disposal, we established an assembly line and methodically segregated and repackaged the items.  This allowed me to conduct an inventory and withdraw the items based

All of the boxes have been inventoried, reorganized and stacked.

on type, ie. pens, pencils, erasers, paper, etc.

Loading up ANA truck with school supplies.

It took us about 2 hours to sort and separate the items before stacking them back into the conex.  Notice their team is composed of French, Brits, and joint services and they all pitched in to give me a hand.  The next morning, we loaded 3 trucks full of school supplies and Beanie Babies and then headed off to our destination.

Inside these tents and

Logarithm and Periodic Element charts.

the concrete classrooms the students were being taught a variety of subjects to include math, chemistry, and history.  In fact, I had the opportunity to meet the gentleman who designed the Periodic Element Table and Logarithm Chart seen in the picture.  The students had no idea we were coming and it was quite a surprise when we arrived.  Initially we sat

Math and chemistry teacher.

down in the school head mistress’ office to explain the reason for our visit.  We let her decide how best to distribute the supplies to minimize disruptions to the class.  Normally as part of COIN, we let the ANA or ANP distribute the items so that the recipients of the items can associate goodwill with the person handing them the items.  But today, it was the coalition team’s turn to personally hand out the items and the ANA would provide security while we were inside.

Due to our timing, the very young children were dismissed and the next rotation was older students.  The first class we entered, the teacher was discussing trigonometric functions with the students.  Just the mere sight of sine and cosine made me break out in a cold sweat and the hair in the back of my neck stood up.  I was certain one of the students might test our knowledge.  Instead a high school girl stood up and addressed our female Lt Col.  She spoke very clear English and was direct.  “Why are you in our country?” she inquired.  Our Lt Col responded accordingly and later on, we learned the female students were in awe that a female could rise through the ranks as did our Lt Colonel.

Bilingual sign in the hallway.

The next classroom we walked in looked the same.  Their desks were constructed of metal and two wooden planks fastened to the top served as the desk surface.  There were no lights and the room was being illuminated by natural light shining through the windows.  Most of the classrooms had old slate chalkboards.  In this particular room, they were teaching chemistry.  My first clue without the aid of an interpreter was the word “hypertonic” written in English on the chalkboard. I recall this word from my chemistry class.  This is when the chemistry teacher asked us politely in English for help in obtaining a chemistry lab because they had no equipment, beakers, or anything.

High school girls with school supplies.

Something obviously missing was the lack of textbooks except for the one the teacher had.  Perhaps they had removed them from their desk in anticipation of our arrival.   I thought back to my high school days and used to complain about having to lug around a bunch of heavy textbooks.  But I can’t imagine being taught without them.   I recently read an article in the local paper where the Dutch are donating money to help print 40 million textbooks for Afghanistan.  Last year I recall reading an article where this was previously attempted years ago, but due to corruption and subcontracting, the books were horribly printed on cheap paper and utilized low quality ink.  Hopefully they will have better success this time.

Me handing out pens to the school girls.

Many of the female students were rather timid and shy, especially when we started taking photographs.  Also when we handed out the pens, pencils, and notebooks, none of the students would take them from our hands.  Instead, we would put them on the desk in front of them.  I managed to take some photographs of the students smiling, while the majority of them remained emotionless or hid from the camera.  But I also understood the great risk these females take by just attending school.  The Taliban have continued to burn down or blow up the female schools.  In addition, they have also been known to spray acid in the girls’ faces as a deterrent to keep them from being educated.

AF Lt hands out Beanie Babies.

After leaving the concrete structures, we went outside and observed classes being taught under the cover of the worn out tents.  The desks were of the same construction and the gravel served as the floor.  These students were much younger and this was an occasion to hand out some Beanie Babies in addition to the school supplies.  The Beanie Babies were a big hit and thanks to Ty Inc. for graciously donating them to the Beanie Babies for Baghdad program which now supports Afghanistan too.

Girls hold up Beanie Babies.

Outside the school perimeter a group of young boys started to gather.  I saw this as an opportunity to distribute some more of the Beanie Babies.  I knew from past village visits

Little boy with his Beanie Baby.

once you start handing out something for free, it doesn’t take long for a stampede of people to come.  Such was the case today; I only had 18 Beanie Babies to hand out.  In a matter of seconds, I had children come running from their houses and nearby with outreached hands wanting whatever I was giving out.

I went back inside because we were out of time and a visitor from the Ministry of Education was waiting on us.  I made an assumption that the expensive SUV parked outside belonged to him, because the teachers are too poor to afford a vehicle like this.  But he was polite and thanked us for our donations.  We also discussed about the coalition forces project to replace the tents with concrete structures.  The head mistress also requested for some assistance in getting medicines and first aid supplies because they had very little and the government was not providing much for them.  I silently thought to myself, if the corruption would stop, then there would money for these items.  But who am I to take away these corrupt officials new luxurious life style and how else could they afford expensive SUVs and their own team of bodyguards along with new houses under construction.

Before we departed, I held my camera over the concrete wall and caught the female students playing volleyball.  These students have the same desires and goals as American children.  Some of them have aspirations to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc., but the road they must travel to achieve these dreams is insurmountable in comparison.  But being in these classrooms and seeing the intensity of these committed students learning, makes me believe in time, these dreams will become reality.

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2 Responses

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Afghanistanlast: Visit 2 All-Girls School in #Afghanistan; using tent full of holes 4 classroom: http://wp.me/prCP7-1z7 gave lots of supplies #sot #military…

  2. I love your posts! Thanks so much for taking me along to the girls’ school. I can hardly imagine how hot it will become in those tents soon. Do they have school during the summer?

    I had to chuckle about the boys complaining that you had gone to the girls’ schools twice and had not visited them once. Kids notice those kinds of things!

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