Learning English in Afghan badlands

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Oct 27 15:08:09 UTC 2008

   Learning English in Afghan badlands

   By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Sherzad district, eastern Afghanistan

  [image: Computer students in Sherzad district] Learning computer skills
offers new opportunities

*"I am a boy and you are a girl - please repeat after me," says the English
language teacher.*

The unlikely setting for the class is the remote eastern Afghan village of
Kodi Khel, against a backdrop of the White Mountains of the Hindu Kush.

In 2001 the White Mountains saw violent clashes between Afghan-American
forces and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda fighters.

In the past, the area has also provided fertile ground for unrestricted
poppy cultivation.

However, much has changed since 2001.

There are no American B-52s bombing the caves of Tora Bora, and poppy fields
have been replaced by maize and wheat in this remote district of Nangarhar

But one thing I didn't anticipate is that students here would be taking
English and computer classes.

*Long walk*

A year ago, Mohammad Shafiq worked in the poppy fields assisting his father.

He attended school in the morning but in the afternoon he didn't have
anything else to do in his village.

  [image: Women's right class] There are also classes in how to respect
women's rights

"We went to school and when we got back, we ate and worked in the fields,"
he says.

But now life has changed for Mohammad Shafiq - he is attending his
first-ever English language and computer class.

These classes were brought to this isolated village by a local doctor who
runs his own non-government organisation (NGO).

Across Afghanistan many boys and girls attend schools like this one, but
many more have been deprived of this opportunity as Taleban attacks have
made it too dangerous for NGOs to set up even the most basic schools in
their areas.

Inside a small room there are a group of 40 students, mostly between the
ages of 16 and 20.

The students walk many miles each day so that they can have the chance to

I watch Shafiq as he loudly and confidently repeats names of animals in

"I love the English language and computers - if I can learn them both I can
find a decent job," he says.

The students face an obstacle course of treacherous mountain passes, valleys
and rivers to get to study.

Take the example of 17-year-old Khalid. His village is a 40-minute walk from
school and he treks both ways twice a day, once in the morning and once in
the afternoon for extra English and computer classes.

He tells me that at first he thought "computer" was the name of a person
from the West.

In his own words he couldn't believe a machine could do so much.

"All we have seen is war. Afghanistan was behind the world. I quite like
what a computer can do. We will some day rebuild our country with things
like this computer," says Khalid as he busily types away.

*Teaching 'good things'*

English language and computer classes are part of the citizenship and
democracy programmes offered for hundreds of part-time students in several
villages in Sherzad district.

 *We educate them. We keep them away from destructive activities*
 Mohammad Nasib,
YESO consultant

According to Dr Shaeen, the founder of Youth Educational Services
Organisation (Yeso), the aim of his programme is to make sure these young
Afghans don't fall into the wrong hands and they grow up to be responsible
members of society.

"They are learning English, computer skills, women's rights and general
lessons about being good individuals. If they don't come here, they will
fall prey to destructive elements or they will become drug addicts," the
doctor says with a smile.

Dr Shaeen gives me a guided tour of his projects.

At another Yeso centre in the village of Toto, dozens of students are
carefully listening to a class about women's rights, violence against women
and human rights.

The teacher is trying to convince students to respect women and is trying
hard to discourage violence against them.

    *I love the English language and computers - if I can learn them both I
can find a decent job*
 Mohammad Shafiq, student

"Women are mothers, women are wives and women are your sisters. If there
were no women, there would be no men today. Please respect them. Don't beat
them. Let your sisters attend school. Am I right?" he asks.

"Yes sir, you are right," the class replies.

Yeso get its funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in

Yeso Afghanistan consultant, Mohammad Nasib, is convinced that organisations
such as his can help bring peace to countries like Afghanistan that have
seen war by educating young people.

''We educate them. We keep them away from destructive activities. They would
otherwise fall into the hands of extremists, or work in brick factories.

"We teach them about democracy, good citizenship and many other good
things," he says.

The NED currently funds about 20 national organisations in Afghanistan. Its
main aim is to promote democracy.

Through his education at the Yeso facility, Mohammad Shafiq has found that
his ambitions extend far beyond the borders of Afghanistan.

He wants to go to America to study some day: "I am going to learn English
and computers first and than I plan to study there, because I like America a
lot," he says with a determined look in his eyes.

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