News: First girls’ middle school opens in east Paktika
Story by 1st Lt. Emily Chilson
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Sixth grade is no longer the limit when it comes to education for girls in east Paktika.
Elders, teachers and students from the Balish Kalay area in Paktika’s Urgun District celebrated the completion of their first girls’ middle school with a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 3.
Inside the dome-shaped structure that resembles a giant soccer ball, 14 girls sat in desks studying their Dari language textbooks prior to the ceremony. The Afghan National Army chief for Balish Kalay and his soldiers provided security alongside Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team security forces soldiers.
For added safety, the middle school was placed adjacent to the primary school within the security wall. The structure, which arrived in Afghanistan in easy-to-assemble pieces, was donated by the Lamia Afghan Foundation, but was constructed by local Afghans.
Zarwana, a 12-year-old Afghan in 7th grade, spoke about her education and her personal goals with PRT members at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“My favorite subject is math and I want to be a doctor,” she said with a smile. “If I want to be a doctor, I have to go to school.”
Girls like Zarwana could play a pivotal role in the future stability of their district should they complete middle school, graduate from high school and go on to learn a service in the healthcare, education or engineering realms.
Female teachers and doctors are hard to come by in Paktika, which makes education and healthcare for the younger generations next to impossible, and creates a cycle of poverty and sickness.
“The problem is that our females aren’t educated and we have no female doctors,” said Khurshid Jaman, Urgun sub-governor.
Due to the conservative culture in Paktika, once girls reach their teenage years, it is considered inappropriate for them to be taught by male teachers unless the subject is religion. The same rules apply to healthcare. Male doctors are not allowed to treat female patients.
According to Mohammad Aziz, the Urgun deputy director of education, boys teach their sisters what they learned at school once the girls complete 6th grade and no longer attend school. For Dr. Bibi Hawa, the provincial director of women’s affairs, a second-hand education for girls is unacceptable.
As a follow-up to an Urgun District women’s shura held in April, Hawa held a meeting with Urgun District leaders May 2 to discuss her plans for a girls’ high school.
The DoWA’s idea was met with support from the village elders, and even arguments over which village would be best for the high school. With Paktika’s literacy rate at no more than 2 percent, there is a critical need to improve education.
Hawa said refurbishing the current schools in the province and adding the two girls’ middle schools is a start. A high school for girls will be yet another step forward should that plan come to fruition.
“Let your girls go to school and go to the shura,” Hawa told the Urgun elders and government leaders. “I’m not from Paktika province, but I’m here for the women. It makes no difference to me.”
A second dome-shaped middle school for girls will be constructed in Ali Haydar village and the elementary school there is slated for refurbishment. For now, girls’ classes are held outside due to the poor structural condition of the school.