A normal elementary school curriculum that fulfills the standards of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been established, complete with final examinations. The girls learn to read and write in the Pashto and Dari languages of Afghanistan, and in Urdu, Pakistan’s official language. The older girls also learn some English. They study math, social studies, science, drawing, physical education, health and Islamiat.
Keeping the Girls in School
Our girls are healthy and safe. The school is not a secret and has the full support of the Camp Elders. There have been no reports of threats or harassment.
Yet keeping the girls in school through grade six has been a challenge. Afghan girls marry young (at age 14, 15 or younger) or may be needed at home to care for younger siblings or to help with the family business. In discussions with our teachers and community elders, we realized that we needed to add a practical, valuable incentive. Now, in addition to the academic curriculum, we provide sewing and embroidery classes. We give each girl who graduates from sixth grade her own sewing machine, enabling her to earn money with her skills.
Since we made this change, graduation rates have more than doubled. 80 students completed the sixth grade in 2013. In 2012, two of our graduates continued on to Pakistani secondary schools. And in 2016, one of our girls graduated from University with a Law Degree – a huge victory! . See photos of the girls' sewing projects and awards ceremony here.
Headmaster Rahmatullah Rahimi leads a faculty of 20 young Afghan and Pakistan women teachers – all dedicated to providing the best possible education for our students. Each year we provide our teachers with a week of professional training as well as refresher workshops during the year. They are paid in accordance with the Pakistani government's wage standards for teachers.
The California Committee and our Partners in Pakistan
The schools are administered by a committee of volunteers from various Southern California communities. The Committee makes decisions about the programs and facilities of the schools, in close coordination with the Head Teacher. An annual budget is created each summer, and funds are allocated monthly for the approved purposes. In the years following the schools' inception, two members of the California Committee traveled twice annually to visit the schools and meet with community members, faculty and parents. These visits were temporarily discontinued due to increased political instability in northwest Pakistan; however, a member of our California Committee with family in northwest Pakistan was able to tour the schools in mid-2014. Click here for a list of our California Committee Members and our Advisory Board.
The California Committee relies on the advice and support of a team of three prominent educators in Peshawar – Nasir Azam Sahibzada - UNHCR Education Officer for all refugees in Pakistan; Azad Kahn Khattak - Community Development Specialist, also with the UNHCR; and Ghulam Mustaffah - a retired elementary school principal. This Pakistan-based committee has been a huge help to us in fostering relationships with the camp Elders and parents of our students. They understand not only what we want to communicate to the community but also how to say it so that the community can hear it. They have taken an active role in teacher training, providing instruction in classroom management and pedagogy and striving for modernization. They also visit the schools, meet with the Head Teacher, and send reports, photos, and recommendations to the California Committee via email.
The Head Teacher communicates regularly with the California Committee by telephone and email, advising of new developments and sending pictures. The camp’s Elders also visit the schools regularly and work with the Head Teacher to ensure that the girls are receiving the best possible education.
In 2013, we selected a small local NGO, Direct Focus Community Aid (DFCA), to assist with school governance on the ground in Pakistan. A non-governmental organization registered under the Voluntary Social Welfare Act of 1961 and under the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, DFCA works for the “welfare and development of poor and disadvantaged” with the close collaboration of partner communities and development organizations and brings a gender- and poverty-sensitive integrated development approach to their projects. Areas of focus include education, primary/reproductive healthcare, shelter and infrastructure, agriculture and farmers rights, women's development, human rights livelihood, and political awareness.
The California Committee is assured that given the strong support of the local families and the community Elders, our schools are safe and functioning smoothly in spite of the difficult situation in the region.
Dr. Betsy Emerick, Afghan Girls Schools Liaison, received the 2015 Women of the World Award presented by 50/50 Leadership and the United Nations Association of Pasadena for her work with our Afghan Refugee Girls' Schools. She gratefully accepted the award on behalf of the entire California Committee, recognizing that the schools are a team effort. (March 2015)
Headmaster Rahmatullah Rahimi received the 2015 N-Peace Award from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for his inclusive peacebuilding work and lifelong commitment to supporting refugees. He was honored in the category Network Campaigning for Action: Women and Men Mobilizing for Peace. Each year, one woman and one man are recognized in this category for "national-level mobilization and advocacy efforts that have resulted in the advancement of women, peace and security." (October 2015)
Our schools are named for two distinguished, historically significant Afghan women: Zarghuna Ana and Nazu Ana. Together, these schools provide primary education (grades 1-6) for over 600 girls annually. We constructed and furnished the buildings, planted trees, and now oversee and fund the schools.
We also provide uniforms, which are a matter of great pride and prestige for our students. A uniform, sewn in the camp, is given to each child every two years. In 2009, at the request of the girls, we changed the uniforms from the traditional Afghan black and white to a beautiful shade of blue with a white headscarf for spring and summer and a warmer, red headscarf for fall and winter. Each girl is provided her own notebook, pencils and textbooks.
Parents pay a small stipend, and the community provides some labor and materials for the schools. Local women and graduates of our school sew the school uniforms. Our schools also have mothers' councils.
Literacy classes for local women are also held in the school buildings.
Our two schools are located in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan run by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR). An estimated 2.5 million displaced Afghans currently reside in Pakistan. The Akora Khattak camp, which was established in 1983-84, currently houses 7,895 families - 55,456 men, women and children. Before our arrival in 2002, there were no schools for girls in the camp villages that we serve, so only boys received an education. Within the camp, there are many different groups, but all residents are members of the Pashtun tribe. While efforts at repatriation of Afghan refugees (from Pakistan to Afghanistan) are underway, our schools are full and funds are needed for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
We established our schools with the permission of both the UNHCR and the local Camp Elders. Initially, the local Imam taught the required course in Islamiat to the girls. He has since turned over those duties to our teachers.
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