Marga Flader und Tanja Khorrami report from their visit in October 2016
Afghanistan? You can’t go there! There is fighting! How often did we hear that before our trip! Yet: This trip again confirmed: Yes, there are attacks again and again. Yes, there are attempts to turn back the clock like in Kunduz. There is corruption and the drug business is blossoming. The government is divided and weak. However:
Millions of people are busy building up a better future for themselves and their children. It is a pity that our media is not reporting much about this. Everywhere construction is going on, roads, dams for hydroelectric power stations, apartment buildings. Schools and universities are full of young people eager to learn. Broad streets are lined with trees and flowerbeds, historical places are being restored. The latter we could admire for example in Herat: The old castle is overlooking the town again almost in its former glory. The Blue Mosque is beautiful, only the five towers of a university from the Middle Ages are still waiting for help.
Coming now to the more important destinations of our trip: Andkhoi and its surroundings and Mazar-e-Sharif:
In all four districts around Andkhoi, there is still demand for additional classrooms, but we can say that our work of the past 14 years is bearing fruit: We have built 41 schools in this region. Nowadays, some schools apply for funds to help with the upkeep of the buildings.
We took part in the inauguration of one small school building in Nayestan. Further two villages have requested school buildings; however, our emphasis will lie on helping students to increase their knowledge. With this in mind, we started our Education Centre in Andkhoi and this has become an excellent place of learning. During this trip, we could observe assistant teachers in most of our courses. They are benefiting from the experience of our very good and active teachers. These assistant teachers will pass their newly gained knowledge on in their own schools. In our preparatory courses in different schools, this “in-service-training” (mostly in science subjects) is also working well. Furthermore, the teachers of our education centre organize teacher-training seminars. During the holidays in summer and winter, at least one hundred teachers took place in these seminars. The education offices are supporting these activities knowing that there is still a lack of qualified teachers.
As during every visit, we could again see that the boys and girls of our education centre have become very confident. They are learning to reflect about social drawbacks in their country, to discuss some problematic traditions and to try to find solutions. A teacher who has just started teaching ecology and agriculture in the education centre knows how to catch their interest in the environment, climate change etc. Along the same line of looking for solutions, the young students of our women centre made good use of their first samples. They sewed some shopping bags from the fabric they had used and sold them very successfully to the teachers of the education centre.
The women’s centre in Andkhoi has really become a wonderful place. In courses with a duration of 18 months, two groups of twelve young women each have learned sewing, embroidery, reading, writing and arithmetic. Four days they studied in their village and two days in the women’s centre. They could improve their knowledge with the professional tailor using electric sewing and embroidery machines. They love to leave the village and come “to town”. They enjoy the loving as well as professional atmosphere of the centre. For many this has become a beautiful second home. Many customers are also coming regularly to order clothes, to do some shopping or to listen to the talks organized by the manageress on subjects like health, bringing up children, history, religion and other topics of interest.
We also wanted to give the women in the villages of the next district Qurghan such chances. Therefore, we opened a second women’s centre in Baghebustan this summer. During our visit, 24 young women greeted us, some still a bit shy, but after four weeks of training already excited. In two groups, they are learning reading, writing, arithmetic and Dari (at home, they are speaking Usbeki or Turkmen) and the cutting, sewing and embroidery. Many of them had not left their house very often before they starting coming to the course. Now they are getting to know their neighbours and realize that Turkmen and Uzbeks are not so different after all. First friendships are developing. For students of the neighbouring school, we are offering English and computer courses. Once the meeting room and kitchen are completed, we will have workshops and lectures there. We were very happy to see all these activities.
Our other main focus – construction of school buildings in the town of Mazar-e-Sharif – will keep us busy for a while longer. We did actually inaugurate another big school for 2000 children, but every visit to another school shows us how great the need for school construction is. We saw four schools where the children were studying in torn tents or in rooms, which looked like a jail with bars in front of the windows (but no glass); others were sitting outside in the open air. Unbearable! You might imagine that we were relieved when we visited the Khaliqdad School where the construction is almost finished. Still the girls and boys are learning in three shifts in tents but soon they will be able to move into their new building. Luckily, their partner school - Gymnasium Neubiberg - had organised a very successful sponsored run so that we are able to get the necessary school furniture, lab equipment and books for the library. We are planning another school construction project – also with the help of the German Foreign Office – but again there is no money for furniture. A new school without furniture? We are confident that our trusted supporters will help once more also for this school.
We also hope to continue our cooperation with the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. For each project, we have to provide our own contribution of 10 % - a big amount if we want to construct good quality buildings. This amount we have ask our donors to provide.
The communities in Afghanistan area also providing their share according to their capabilities. They are providing the plot of land or they are constructing the boundary walls or drill a well which will provide the water for construction and later-on for the students. As these wells have to be very deep, we had the idea to power the pump by solar energy. Ten big solar panels are providing sufficient electricity to pump the water from a depth of around 120 m. We were waiting impatiently until after a few minutes the water was gushing out of the pipe and the many little trees could be watered. Success!
During this visit, it became clear again that Afghanistan will need help from the outside for many years to come. There is a huge amount of work waiting. Around 1.5 mio. people are living as refugees or returnees from other countries in parts of Afghanistan which are not their home. They need schools and job opportunities. We are hopeful that the young generation will bring changes when they are taking over responsibilities in the coming years. With our young team in Afghanistan, we are already seeing now how this can work – not only for VUSAF, but hopefully all over the country.
Therefore, we are requesting your help for our projects which are still very much needed.
Marga Flader and Tanja Khorrami