Jessica: This is one of the reasons why Americans are sacrificing their lives. It is a school, and some experts say if this doesn’t succeed then the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will also fail.
“In places where still lot of Taliban activity is going on, they don’t send kids to school because of the threat.”
Jessica: The Taliban, the extremist group U.S. forces are fighting, wants this school to fail. And they are willing to attack even students. So, that is why barbed wire surrounds the courtyard, a Marine stands watch at this post, and we had to walk in a line behind the Marines to get there. The Marines were looking out for IEDs, a type of homemade bomb.
The students don’t have the same protection but hundreds show up, excited to begin a new school year.
“One of the 4th graders just showed me his English book, which he got three days ago. And if you take a look, the first thing you see is the alphabet. And then right here is lesson one, My First Words in English. And it is showing them how to say apple, book, cat, dog, egg, fish. And the teacher, good morning. So, this is basic English. First lesson.
The Taliban shut down the school once before. It reopened under the protection of U.S. Marines. The interruption is noticeable. This group of 17 and 18-year-old students are all in the 5th grade.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Students: Doctor. Doctor. Engineer. Engineer. Doctor.
Jessica: If they become doctors and engineers, then they are less likely to one day join the Taliban. It is part of the U.S. strategy.
“It definitely puts our I.O. message in favor for us instead of the Taliban. Allowing kids to come to school wasn’t something the Taliban allowed before. As we provide security, it opens up more freedom for people and takes more pull away from Taliban.”
Jessica: Security is the first step, but there are many more. Across Afghanistan, 40% of children do not have access to schools. If they do, most schools don’t have proper classrooms, clean drinking water or bathrooms. At this school, there are five teachers for about 300 students. It is not enough. So, each day, some students sit outside teaching each other.
There are about forty students in this one classroom. It is dark, hot, there’s flies everywhere. So, it is a very difficult environment to learn in.
Finding teachers isn’t easy. Less than 30% of Afghans can read and write. Here in the rural south, it is much less.
Literature teacher Fazil Karim is one of the most educated men in the village. He never went to college. He just told me out of the 15,000 adults in this village, just 150 can read and write. Those getting the opportunity to read and write are mostly boys.
If education is so important, why are there no girls in this school?
“There is not enough security in this area. The Taliban is not big but even if one person comes and kills one person, then ten others get scared. So, people don’t want to send their daughters.”
Jessica: That fear, and the belief that girls don’t need to be educated, are two reasons why today, two-thirds of all Afghan students are boys.
“It is a big improvement.”
Jessica: In 2002, there were less than 1 million children in Afghanistan who went to school. Almost none of them were girls.
“As big of a scale we’re talking about, Afghanistan is going from zero to trying to build it up slowly. The school supplies they get from us are donated from families, pens out of our pockets. Slow steps. We have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.”
Jessica: Ten years ago, you would not be able to go to this school. But you know a lot of people died for you to be able to do this, both Afghans and Americans. Is it worth it to you?
“It has benefited us greatly but I’m not sure if it’s worth it, the lives of so many.”
Jessica: But Ahmed wants the Marines to stay even though he, and most of the students here, don’t know why they came in the first place.
Do you know why the U.S. came into your country Afghanistan?
“I’m not sure.”
Jessica: Have you ever heard of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11th?
Jessica: Have any of you heard of the September 11th attacks in the U.S.? Just two.
Do you know what happened?
“Don’t know details.”
Jessica: Only two had heard of the attacks, but neither knew what happened.
Eventually the Marines will leave and the Afghan national army will take over. Critics argue that is why the U.S. strategy won’t work. They say the schools are fragile and without proper support are doomed to fail.
The villagers fear once the Marines go, so will their dreams for Afghanistan.
Fazil: Not until our army is strong enough or our government strong enough. It’s not possible for the schools to remain open. Education is the only way these children will be raised properly so they can have mind of their own and they can decide what happens to this country.
Jessica: Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.