What is wrong with this picture? Building and reforming education infrastructure in many countries is very difficult, largely due to widespread child labor. Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world poses no exception to this struggle. The BBC recently featured the country-wide problem of child labor in a new photo essay, which shows that even in a country divided by difficult topography, many different ethnicities and over 30 languages, child labor and a huge informal economy are problems common throughout. As you may know, in Faryab and Jowzjan provinces, where Barakat schools are located, many girls did not have the opportunity to go to school because they were helping in their family carpet weaving businesses during the day. The same appears to be true for children in urban areas in these pictures — their current economic situation outweighs the long-term benefits of going to school. While this problem is then increased by the fact that much of the labor being done by children appears to be done in an expansive informal economy, we must figure out how to work within this situation instead of rejecting it wholesale.
Despite mounting adversity in the form of attacks on girls’ schools and dire economic conditions, children do still have a desire to go to school. In order to satisfy this desire, it is necessary to forge compromises between work and school. What we in the West often do not understand is that children helping their families’ businesses is quite customary and that effective schools are the ones that work within this context. Helping one’s family business from a young age is usually a part of a child’s life — to deny this would be to not fully understand the context of work within Afghanistan. It is therefore necessary to cater school and literacy initiatives to students in a way where they can still help their families, while going to school. Some helpful ways that we have found are through home-based literacy courses, night school programs and income generation curricula, like that developed by Saba Gul of Bags for Bliss to teach girls in Pakistan how to monetize their embroidery skills during the regular school day.
Joining the effort towards worldwide literacy is about taking into account the culture in which we work. This is one of many problems in the region that requires creative solutions and input from everybody!
As usual, feel free to comment below or shoot us a tweet @barakatinc if you want to join the discussion about child labor and increasing education in the places that need it the most.