Girls' school in Afghanistan: What will happen to the dream?


Michael West



Mädchen während einer Unterrichtsstunde

A school for girls has been built in Afghanistan with the help of the Migros Aid Fund. What will become of it, now that the Taliban has seized power in the country?

We know about the chaos and violence in Kabul from the pictures on TV. Taiba Rahim (52) left it behind just a few days ago.¬ She made it first to Tashkent¬, travelling in the windowless belly of a German Army cargo plane. Then she got a charter plane to Hanover, and from there she travelled on a ¬scheduled flight to Zurich. Now the Afghan national is back safe and sound in Waadtland, where she has lived for the past 21 years.

One might assume the stresses and strains of the long journey she has just made would still be visible. But instead, the president of the Swiss aid organisation «Association Nai Qala» is talking with great enthusiasm about a development project: in a stony, treeless mountain valley in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan, some 3000 metres above sea level, where a badly needed girls school has been built. The building was constructed last year using bricks and roughly-hewn stone blocks. Its roof is of thick sheet steel - strong enough to cope with the weight of the snow that falls in abundance every winter.

Girls should keep their dignity

650 girls between the ages of 8 and 20 can now be taught there. «They will receive instruction in subjects that lead to sound professions,» explains Rahim. «For example, they can train to be seamstresses, health workers or teachers. This opens up ¬work opportunities in their ¬home region. They do not need to seek their fortunes in the big towns and cities, -where they are often forced to accept any kind of work and end up losing their ¬dignity.»

The project has been made possible thanks to a large grant from the Migros Aid Fund. Together with her aid organisation, Rahim has driven forward the construction of the school. She was often there in person, negotiating with and persuading the necessary people. She was helped by the fact that she grew up in the ¬province of Bamiyan and, like many people there, belongs to the ¬Hazara ethnic group. 

The energetic and dynamic woman met multiple times with the elders and village councils of the seven municipalities up in the mountain valley. On occasions she addressed meetings of 60 men. The project was an ambitious one: a proper road had to be built first, to allow the construction equipment to be moved from the town. «In the end, the decisive factor was that many of the men really wanted there to be a school for their daughters,» says ¬Rahim. «They were unhappy that their girls had never had regular schooling.»

Because before the school was built, the girls were taught in the open air. They sat on blankets on the ground while their teachers tried to teach their lessons. But the large amounts of snow in winter and the strong winds up in the mountain valleys often made teaching impossible. There were only a few books available - and certainly no computers. Instead, some teachers drew keyboards on paper to give the girls at least an idea of what a computer looked like. In the solidly-built schoolhouse with its green-washed walls, there is now a well-stocked library, and also a computer room containing ten devices.

Taiba Rahim, Leiterin xy i

Taiba Rahim, president of the aid organisation «Association Nai Qala»

The village elders will take care of the school.

Taiba Rahim, Präsidentin des Hilfswerks Association Nai Qala

Taliban staying away from the valley

When Rahim recently attended the official opening of the school, events were unfolding rapidly elsewhere in Afghanistan. Following the American withdrawal, the national army's resistance crumbled and the Taliban started advancing relentlessly. «But no Taliban fighters have moved into the valley,» says the head of the aid organisation. «At the moment it's more important for them to demonstrate their presence in the towns and cities. That carries a lot more ¬symbolic impact.»

Nevertheless, won't the Taliban simply march in later, take over the school and misuse it for their own purposes? «I don't think they will,» says Rahim calmly. «After the official opening, we placed the school under the care of the village elders. It is now their project; they are proud of it and they will not surrender it lightly. The people in this mountainous region remind me a lot of the Swiss: they come across as reserved and modest - but they are also very strong willed and can often be downright stubborn.»

Bamiyan Province Girls school Afghanistan: Impressions

Marghi Scool, Aussenansicht

view of the new school that has been built at 3000 metres above sea level.

Die Marghischule befindet sich in der Provinz von Bamyan

Ecole de Marghi is situated sin the province Bamiyan

Früher wurden die Mädchen draussen unterrichtet

The girls used to be taught in the open air - if the weather allowed it.

Photo/stage: Nai Qala

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