CRS works towards a literate Afghan generation

By Eric Gibble
April 25, 2010

Three years ago, the Catholic Relief Services Afghanistan education program began working in a remote village of 100 families to set up a community school.

In the process of setting up this school, a CRS worker encountered a woman who received a letter from her husband working in Iran. For three months she searched in vain for someone who would be able to read the letter to her.

This woman is a part of the two thirds of the Afghan population who cannot read or write. In rural areas in the country, that rate falls dramatically to 13 percent. For women, it drops to less than two percent in these rural areas.

Three CRS visitors from Afghanistan to Cabrini used this story to illustrate the challenges they face in setting up schools in war-torn Afghanistan.

Michaela Egger, CRS Afghanistan education program coordinator offered a unique perspective having been on the round since 2007 in the country.

Two Afghan workers who cannot be named due to security reasons also spoke with a small group of Cabrini faculty on Thursday, April 15. The Cabrini faculty members will be traveling to Swaziland, Africa, to help set up a school for orphans under similar challenging circumstances.

Women especially in Afghanistan face the problem of illiteracy because of cultural beliefs against women’s education.

Even though these schools are being set up across the nation to improve the problem, much of the adult population cannot attend because of the everyday struggle to feed their families.

Only until recently has this woman been able to read the letter her husband sent because of the education her children received. Her children, like many, now help to serve the majority of the population that are unable to read or write.

Egger spoke to faculty and students in Cabrini’s education department on development of the country since the invasion.

CRS Afghanistan has been working in the country for close to eight years.

“There have been two times when the education system has been severely disrupted in their history. One was during the civil war in the ’90s and then after, more certainly, during the Taliban regime,” Egger said.

These conflicts derailed the education system in the country because those with the ability to leave the country did so.

“It also severely depleted the country of a viable teaching force because so many people fled the country,” Egger said in reference to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Egger has traveled extensively throughout Afghanistan and emphasized the close ties CRS has made with the communities in order to make progress in education.

“We believe that education and school is not just a building and we, in all our approaches, work with the communities and the ministry of education to create and foster a positive, peaceful learning environment.”

Currently there are over six million enrolled in schools. One third of them are girls who would not have been able to receive an education under the Taliban.

“Tremendous progress has been made by the ministry of education certainly with the support of the international community and international aid agencies like CRS,” Egger said. “Our focus concentrates on those rural areas where we work with communities to establish community-based schools.”

Egger’s own personal experiences have allowed her to witness first-hand the progress the Afghan people have made with the assistance of CRS.

“One man told me how he grew up illiterate and all the challenges that entailed and how he slowly taught himself to read and write and how determined he was now to help form a literate generation,” Egger said.

This man is now a community teacher and has become a part of the force that is helping to create a literate Afghanistan.

“He said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of organizations come and go in our village. A lot of times they come in and then they bring us things and they give us different materials but then soon after the organization leaves, the people leave, and their stuff goes away. But when somebody gives us knowledge that’s the most important thing that we can receive because that’s something that never goes away.’ I think that embodies our work,” Egger said.

There are still many challenges for CRS. Many of the teachers themselves are equipped with only a grade two- or three education.

Because of the extensive experience the workers have on the ground, faculty members asked questions relating to the trip to Swaziland that they will embark on over the summer.

This trip will also help to develop schools in that part of the world in order to improve the current system there.

Bridget Flynn, senior elementary and special education major, was able to draw her own experiences to the speakers as well.

Despite numerous media reports on the instability of the region, the great leaps being made because of organizations like CRS sparked hope for Flynn.

“Of all the awful things we hear about that happen in the world, and especially in that area of the world, it was an extremely refreshing conversation to have.”

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Eric Gibble

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