Monthly Archives: June 2010

Unqualified Teachers A Nationwide Issue

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Written by: Lisa DeBenedictis

Forget the lack of textbooks, supplies and access to computers.

Imagine instead a school without teachers—or even trained teachers.

This, however, is the harsh reality that many schools across Afghanistan are forced to deal with.

The Maidan Wardak province, just west of Kabul, was formerly run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Hizb-e-Islami party and the Taliban. As a result of much political strife, Maidan Wardak’s economy—and education system— has suffered deeply.

“Most professional teachers have either taken refuge outside the province, been martyred during the wars, or worked for foreign organizations due to economic problems at the moment,” said Maidan Wardak’s Director of Education, Hafizollah Waziri, in an interview with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

Out of the 4,375 teachers employed in the province’s 331 active schools, only 510 are qualified to teach, he added.

And according to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, it’s a nationwide issue. Of the 175,000 registered teachers, over 70 percent have not graduated from teaching training colleges. Even more alarming, some of them reported as only having completed the sixth grade.

In Barakat’s Mullah Kareem Nazar School in the Andkoy district of the Faryab province, the school is lucky enough to have a good relationship with the local government. It is a government-sponsored school, and so they appointed each of the school’s 15 teachers. The minimum requirements for hiring a teacher in the Mullah Kareem Nazar school are: successful completion of the twelfth grade, completion of teacher training college, and experience.

But Barakat’s Besh Kapa Surkh School in the Aqcha district of the Jowzjan province has had more trouble. The school’s relationship with the local government is not as strong, and without governmental help, it is difficult to find properly qualified teachers. As of now, the 12 teachers working at Besh Kapa Surkh have completed both the twelfth grade and their teacher training college programs, but not all are very experienced.

In order to counter this problem, we at Barakat are in the process of hiring seven more experienced teachers at Besh Kapa Surkh School, which will provide help to both the students and the teachers.

Remember, the money you donate goes directly to the funding of our schools, including the salaries of our teachers. Help us help our students get a quality education by donating today.

Students sit in one of the classrooms of Barakat's Besh Kapa Surkh School.

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A Voice We Are Thankful to Hear

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Written By: Lisa DeBenedictis

During the international coverage of Afghanistan’s peace jirga last week, one of the Afghani’s interviewed caught Barakat’s eye—or should we say, ear.

Talk surrounding the jirga was ripe with controversy, especially for many women’s rights activists who wondered if attempts to open talks with the Taliban would result in concessions to the recent—and albeit slight—gains in rights for Afghani women.

Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist in Kabul, was available for comment.

“My hope is that it will recognize their presence and protect their [women’s] rights equally to men, as presented in the constitution,” said Ashraf Nemat in an interview with Reuters prior to the jirga.

Since the Susan B. Anthonys, Gloria Steinems, and Hillary Clintons of the Middle East are rarely mentioned, and even more rarely acknowledged, we at Barakat decided to take this opportunity to highlight and celebrate Ms. Ashraf Nemat’s hard work and dedication to women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Ashraf Nemat began her career as a guide and translator in the mid-1990’s, helping journalists and foreign aid workers to refuge during Taliban-run Afghanistan. In 1999, she founded what is now one of the leading NGO’s in Afghanistan, Humanitarian Assistance to the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), which she served as director of until 2007.

In the course of the ten years she spent working for HAWCA, Ashraf Nemat helped develop training programs for Afghan women and children refugees in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and launched underground literacy and health education programs.

The recipient of several fellowships and awards, Ashraf Nemat has a Masters in Developmental Planning from the University of London, and became a Yale World Fellow in 2008.

She has also worked with such organizations as Human Right’s Watch, Swiss Development Coordination, UNDP, and UNIFEM, and is on the board of directors for the Afghan Women’s Network.

In 2010, Ashraf Nemat founded the Youth and Women’s Leadership Centre.

In a letter to President Obama shortly after he won the 2008 election, Ashraf Nemat wrote: “In the 21st century, the most important weapon to be given to Afghan people, of whom over 50% are youth, is the pen. More investment in education for a nation with a 71% illiteracy rate will significantly curb generations of prospective terrorist recruits against the West in general, and contribute to a sustainable peace in the region.

“Women in Afghanistan, despite some claims to the contrary, are not liberated. Nor can an outside force liberate them. They are under-represented in the leadership and political decision-making processes; and moreover, the debates and discussions about negotiating with extremist groups such as Taliban and Hezb-e Islami are indeed endangering the status of women by limiting their access to education, jobs and political participation. The process of democratization and gender equality requires strengthening grass-roots initiatives working on such issues on the ground.”

In a world where billions of jumbled voices are constantly shoving to speak over each other, sometimes one voice seems barely audible.

But, Ms. Ashraf Nemat, Barakat hears you.

We too at Barakat realize that literacy and education for the youth, and especially the female youth, of Afghanistan is the key tool for empowerment and change, and Barakat seeks to do so with our locally run schools in Afghanistan.

Click here to help give the future Orzala Ashraf Nemats of Afghanistan a voice, too.

Women Deliver conference talks maternal health

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At Barakat, we believe that educating women will also allow them to become better informed about their own health, and the health of their children.

By: Lisa DeBenedictis

The 2010 international Women Deliver conference began on Monday, June 7, in Washington D.C.

The conference’s focus is on maternal health, in conjunction with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to significantly improve maternal health worldwide by 2015.

According to USA Today’s article about the conference, some of the highest rates of maternal deaths occur in two of the countries Barakat works in, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, according to the Women Deliver website, one in eight Afghan women will die from complications with pregnancy or childbirth.

At Barakat, not only do we believe that education is the way to become successful and empowered, but we also believe that education is the best way for women to become better informed and aware of both their own health, and the health of their children.

As a result, Barakat has instilled government-backed health care programs at the Mullah Karim Nazar School in Afghanistan (which opened on March 6, 2010) and at the Besh Kappa Surkh School in Afghanistan (which will be opening in September of 2010).

Both schools offer yearly physical and mental check-ups to each of its students, and even parents, if necessary. If an illness persists or becomes severe, Barakat also provides ways to help get the student to a hospital in Kabul. (Read more about Barakat’s Health Program’s updates here.)

Yesterday, the Women Deliver conference began on a window-shatteringly high note, with the announcement of a $1.5 billion donation from the Gates Foundation in grant money for maternal health.

But though a donation such as this is certainly amazing and inspiring, anyone can help.

It doesn’t take much, and it goes a long way: $40 sends a girl to a home-based literacy program for a year, $65 sends child to one of our elementary schools for a year, and $200 provides basic health care for 350 children for a month.

In the words of the Women Deliver’s organization themselves: will you deliver?

Click here to donate now.

Northern Afghanistan Not As Hopeful As it Once Was

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When the Taliban first fell in 2001, foreigners could travel freely to anywhere in Afghanistan, Anna Badkhen, a reporter for the Financial Times says. Today, it’s not the same and the population in Northern Afghanistan is not as hopeful about their future. Despite donations and contributions from the U.S., not much money or aid has made its way out of Kabul. Badkhen sites a village with infrastructure that is abandoned. There is a health clinic (with no doctor), a school (with no teacher), and a playground that no one uses. Another town was flooded, all the homes were destroyed, and the government only came to help once, and only distributed loaves of bread.

Barakat’s programs and schools in Afghanistan are concentrated in the Northern regions, in towns just like these. The problem of land use that Badkhen talks about applies to the families of our students as well. Salty soil not only affects agriculture, but also drinking water. The water is simply too salty to drink. Compounding daily survival issues like these is the growing threat of insurgents. The northern areas of Afghanistan are not used to this threat, since the Taliban has largely operated only in Southern Afghanistan in the past. These major humanitarian issues need to be addressed before Afghanistan can move forward. Without basic necessities such as drinking water and healthcare, there can be no progress and no improvement in the quality of life. Like the people Badkhen spoke with said, “Do we need this playground if our children are dying?”