Early in the month of February, two of Barakat’s interns had the pleasure of visiting a classroom of second graders at the Amigos School in Cambridge, MA. During the visit, they hoped to facilitate activities that would increase the students’ awareness of the barriers to education faced by many children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In front of twenty sets of squirmy, crisscrossed legs, our interns, Katherine and Jessica, explained that children in these countries are often prevented from attending school. In 2010, Pakistan had a net enrollment ratio of around 70% at the primary school level, and the ratio was closer to 50% in Afghanistan . At one point our Barakat representatives asked all the kids to stand up; they then instructed half of them to sit back down to illustrate the difference in primary school attendance between the United States and Afghanistan. When the students learned that only the number left standing might have the opportunity to attend school in a place like Afghanistan, a discussion broke out about the importance of education. All the kids, even those who may grumble at the prospect of sitting in class each day, voiced their beliefs about the benefits of schooling. School is important, the students argued, because it’s a great place to make friends, it is necessary to go on to a good college, and it teaches you things you would not learn anywhere else.
Certainly we, and these young second-graders, are quick to recognize the absolute necessity of universal education. And yet, a significant segment of the Afghan and Pakistani populations – particularly girls and women – are prevented from attending school in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of us are aware of the Taliban’s consistent, and often violent, opposition to girls’ education. Cultural and practical barriers prevent many families from sending their daughters to school. In many areas, this reluctance is compounded by a lack of access to adequate facilities, resources, and teachers.
After discussing the factors that obstruct the educations of so many children across the world, the Cambridge second graders were invited to write personal cards encouraging their peers in Afghanistan and Pakistan to continue their studies. This activity was inspired by one of their own classroom practices: there is a small bucket kept at the front of the classroom in which the students regularly drop words of encouragement and positive observations about others. Having had much practice with these particular acts of kindness, the students enthusiastically sat down to work, quickly filling their pages with sincere notes and drawings. Each student also signed a large, communal note that will be shared with Barakat’s schools.
At one moment during the class, a student observed that the girls in a photo of a Pakistani classroom were wearing scarves over their heads. She raised her hand and curiously asked, “what if they don’t want to wear these?” Her question prompted a thoughtful and lively conversation – demonstrating how the chance to attend school can give children everywhere the tools to articulate their own thoughts and consider diverse points of view. This truth felt particularly relevant, as this local Cambridge class was just completing a unit on persuasive writing!
The Barakat visit helped the Cambridge students to understand their world a bit better, and the experience of seeing these issues through the eyes of these younger citizens was also very powerful for us at Barakat. Connecting with curious youth in our own community has renewed our dedication to Barakat’s mission of increasing access to education in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
 UNICEF Statistics