Category Archives: Afghanistan

Changes to Barakat!

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We realize we haven’t posted in a while and there are reasons for that. Usually we post about articles we find interesting and think you will too but this time we have news of our own! In late December one of our event coordinators, Mia Buchsbaum, took on the role of Administrator of our U.S. offices. During that time we also opted to close down our formal offices in Cambridge, MA. The reason for this is simple we want to make it possible for even more of every donation to go to what’s most important to us and likely most important to you as well, our programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan!

With that in mind, in the new year we took a close look at the yearly budgets for our programs to see where else we could lower overhead costs so a larger portion of funds we send overseas could go to our students instead of administrative costs. The result was the decision to close our main office for our Afghanistan programs located in Kabul Afghanistan and shift all operations to our smaller North Office. Our North Office is much closer to where our programs are actually taking place and thus has much closer ties to the community we’re trying to serve so is in a better position to represent what the programs need as opposed to a larger office south of the programs. This project is currently underway and will take about six months to be fully completed. However, we have already seen a drop in administrative costs for our Afghanistan program which means already more of every dollar donated is going to where it’s needed most, the schools!

On a much happier and exciting note we’re excited to announce that we had over 100 women graduate from our literacy programs at the end of December! The literacy program runs from April to December every year so it is on break till April when classes will resume again. The 2014-2015 school year also saw a record number of students enrolled in our programs with over 3,000 students enrolled, 62% of which were female! Stay tuned for more blog posts!

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Linda Bond and One to One Partners bring handmade bags from Afghanistan to our Walk for Literacy

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A beautiful, crisp Fall day was the setting for our 8th Annual Walk for Literacy in Harvard Square this year. We had so many great volunteers and participants that were just as excited to walk as we were, but this year’s event featured a unique twist.

Displayed on a large rock right next to our registration tent were several hand-painted bags, created by young women in Afghanistan, that featured a photo of each woman who designed the specific bag inside. The bags were brought to the walk by artist Linda Bond, through her One to One Partners art exhibit, that directly works with women in Afghanistan who are currently enrolled in Literacy Programs. We are so appreciative of Ms. Bond and the women who created these special bags.

Barakat would also like to thank the rest of our volunteers and participants who came to our 8th annual Walk for Literacy. We are so fortunate to have such great supporters.

Photos from our Walk for Literacy can be viewed here and more information on Linda Bond’s exhibit can be viewed on her Website.

Afghan First Lady Promotes Careful Compromise

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News sources have showed much interest lately in Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, and her unconventional media presence. A recent Washington Times’ article states that: “Rula Ghani has done what first ladies often do in democracies, attending public events alongside her husband and speaking before audiences on current issues. But her words have always been soft-spoken, measured and delivered away from the center stage of the Afghan political scene.”

Often times, Afghanistan’s first ladies are ‘invisible’, neither seen nor heard in public, and certainly not involved in any politics or activism. Ghani is one of the few First Ladies to appear as an advocate and counselor for female political issues. Her husband, President Ashraf Ghani, even set the stage for his wife’s presence by introducing her in his inaugural speech. That act alone isolates Ghani as a controversial female figure.

Ghani, however, in an interview with The Associated Press, refers to herself as merely a ‘listening post’. She refuses the expectation that she serve as an advocate for women’s rights and rejects the treatment Afghan women as victims or prisoners who are in need of escape. Instead, Ghani refers to Afghan women as “very strong women, indeed living in very challenging conditions, showing a lot of resilience, [and] a lot of resourcefulness”.

When placed in the scope of a democracy, Ghani’s actions may seem small. However, an interesting comparison arises when looking at statements made by First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady recently delivered a speech in which she defends the act of careful compromise. She stated:

“Do compromises make [great] leaders sell-outs? Traitors to their cause? I don’t think so. Instead I think they knew that if they could just get everyone to take that first step, then folks would keep on moving in the right direction. And they also understood that often the biggest, most dramatic change happens incrementally, little by little, through compromises and adjustments over years and decades. And I know that these days that can seem counterintuitive because we live in such an instantaneous age, [but] if you want to change their minds, if you want to work with them to move [a] country forward, you can’t just shut them out. You have to persuade them and you have to compromise with them. That’s what so many of our heroes in history have done…  they knew where they wanted to go, and they were strategic and pragmatic about getting there.”
(First Lady Michelle Obama, May 25, 2015)

Even in a democracy which centers itself on heated debates and polarized belief systems, the First Lady advocates for incremental change. Simply appearing in public and representing Afghan women as a ‘listening post’ can be a big move towards compromise. Could Ghani have made the first step towards a new female representation in Afghanistan? First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Rula Ghani may have more in common than first meets the eye; although they are female representatives for two very different nations, both are advocates for the careful compromises and small adjustments that move a society forward.

Here at Barakat, we know that change comes one step at a time; each girl who enrolls in our schools benefits individually from her education, but also serves as an advocate for slow but steady change, much like Rula Ghani. One girl can make a difference, even if that difference comes slowly, and in the form of small compromises.

We urge our supporters to help us continue our mission, and join us on the path towards global education, even if that path can seem long and winding at times! It is the careful consideration of different beliefs and a firm sense of understanding that will promote change for the better.

To learn how to advance the education of women and children and support Barakat’s most recent cause, visit our One for Education website here.

Changing Tides: Afghanistan’s Evolving Outlook On Women

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Changing Tides: Afghanistan’s Evolving Outlook On Women

Afghanistan is changing – with new president Ashraf Ghani, the world is hoping that at long last, Afghanistan will clean up its act. President Karzai governed amidst allegations of corruption, even from his own ministers; the Taliban still hold much of southern Afghanistan; Afghan forces are suffering from “unsustainable casualty rates.” And President Ghani too, has been subject to accusations of wrongdoing, such as those perpetuated by his presidential rival, Abdullah Abdullah, regarding electoral fraud.

But President Ghani does seem to be different. Notably, he has spoken up time and again about his vision of an Afghanistan where women in society are empowered. As reported by the Associated Press at President Ghani’s inauguration speech, “in the face of these girls I can see future Afghan leaders,” he said as he told his “sisters” in attendance that they have equal rights in society and government.

Moreover, President Ghani stands out for having paid public tribute to his wife, Rula Ghani, in his inauguration speech – a highly unconventional act, as Afghan leaders’ wives typically remain silent in the background. The First Lady herself commented that “by mentioning me the way he did, my husband really showed exactly what I mean by helping Afghan women be more assertive, more conscious of their role, more respected.”

All this looks very promising, but of course, many have expressed doubts as to whether these ideals will be realized. Mary Akrami, head of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre, welcomes the sentiments expressed by the President, but hopes that they will be followed by “concrete action.”

That hope is shared by the team here at Barakat. As an organization built upon the idea that education is a fundamental human right and should be available to all, particularly to girls and women, Barakat is excited to see the impact First Lady Rula Ghani and President Ghani can make on gender equality in Afghanistan!

Providing Education for Girls and Women in Afghanistan despite Barriers

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Since the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the country has made enormous strides in improving its education system. However, Afghanistan has been handicapped by years of war plus the surviving presence and influence of the Taliban, and falls behind other countries in Central Asia in schooling[1].  Consequently, Barakat’s schools in Afghanistan deal with unique problems and barriers to education, particularly for girls and women.

Afghanistan’s education issues started during the Soviet occupation in 1979, when Russia installed strict military, social, and economic reforms in the country and a resistance group, the mujahideen, formed in response. When the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989, they left the country in a state of civil war between the mujahideen and the new, Soviet-backed government of President Mohammed Najibullah. When the Taliban took power in 1996, they claimed that they would bring peace back to Afghanistan through Sharia (Islamic law). However, their interpretation of Sharia proved to be ultra-conservative and severely rigid. Many previously accepted activities were prohibited, including education for females. The boys who were allowed to go to school were restricted to the study of Islam. Though the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, they maintain an influence, and continue to fight female education through threats and attacks.

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However, improving access to education for girls and boys, and increasing literacy rates, is a priority of the new Ministry of Education, and substantial progress has been made over the last decade. For example, during the Taliban rule, less than one million children, all boys, attended school. Today, this has increased to about ten million students, of which 40% are female. And the literacy rate has more than doubled—from 15% in 2003, to 36% in 2013, and the Ministry of Education has set the goal at 50% by the end of 2018.

Despite these improvements over the past decade, there are still many areas of the country without schools, and in rural Northern Afghanistan, the terrain and harsh winters make it difficult for children to attend schools that are far from home. In such areas, the Ministry of Education seeks to establish public-private partnerships to build new schools and increase access to education. This is where Barakat comes in.

Barakat works closely with the Ministry of Education to manage Barakat’s schools and curriculum in Northern Afghanistan. In the 2013-2014 academic year, our schools’ total enrollment rate was 1535 students. And, because Barakat’s schools are private, they have the advantage of more flexibility in their curriculum than public schools. For example, historically, education in Afghanistan consisted of learning to read the Quran, while everything else was considered higher education. Now, public schools teach languages and history in addition to the study of Islam, but Barakat schools, by comparison, offer classes in English, math, science, and computer science.

Even with these new schools in Northern Afghanistan, there are still girls who do not attend because their families are reluctant to let their daughters travel away from home or attend school with boys. Also, many adult women who were unable to attend school as children are now too old to enroll. To address this unmet need, Barakat established a literacy program in Northern Afghanistan with no age limit for females. And for the lower-level literacy students, classes are often taught in the students’ homes, which has allowed Barakat to reach teenage girls, married women, and grandmothers. The higher-level program is run in a school-like setting, with the location adapting to the needs of its students. All told, 628 students participated in Barakat’s literacy program in 2013-2014.

Despite these excellent advances, there is still a long way to go in providing accessible education for children in Afghanistan. A Ministry of Education that supports female education is a critical first step, but the lingering influence of the Taliban and their attacks against schools remains a large challenge for continued improvement. Nonetheless, Barakat continues to institute new ways of delivering high-quality education to girls and women that are convenient and safe.

Support the education of girls and women in Afghanistan by making a donation to Barakat’s schools and literacy program this holiday season. Please click here for more information. 


[1] According to the United Nations Development Programme.

Education: the Silver Lining to Life in Afghan Refugee Camps

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A Barakat Literacy Course for Women in Afghanistan

After four years, Taj Mohammad, his wife, and his eight children have grown accustomed to living in close quarters at Charahi Qambar, a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. The camp provides shelter for 900 families from war-torn areas, mostly from southern Afghanistan. Charahi Qambar is just one of 52 refugee camps in the province. Living in camps is challenging; many refugees live off of $6 a day or less, have no access to heat and very little access to water and food. They do, however, acknowledge one positive difference of life at Charahi Qambar: the opportunity for their children, especially girls, to attend school.

“I did not know that girls could go to school, because in my village only a very few girls were taught anything and it was always at home. I thought, ‘Maybe these are the daughters of a general,’ because where I come from, women do not leave their homes, not even to bring water,” said a male camp resident from Helmand, Rahmatullah, according to a NY Times article. Shortly after arriving to the camp, he and his wife agreed to send their daughters to the camp school. His girls are now in a regular Kabul school.

Eight hundred students attend the camp school at Charahi Qambar and receive daily lunches. The school’s goal remains to bring children up to a level where they can keep up in regular Kabul schools. However, international aid has been steadily decreasing since the US has announced its plan to pull troops, and funding for many of these educational programs and schools is being cut. It remains to be seen how educational programs for children (especially girls), will be sustained after the US pulls out of Afghanistan in 2014.

Thankfully, there are programs rooted in communities, such as Barakat’s schools and literacy programs in northern Afghanistan that are successful and sustained, regardless of US presence. One solution to increasing access to education, particularly for girls and women, could be that donors in developed countries support schools and programs that have deep connection to their communities, much like Barakat. This will ensure that the important work of educating and empowering those who need it the most can continue despite the US pulling out from Afghanistan.

Finding purpose through Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner

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Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner tells the heart-wrenching story of an 11-year-old Afghani girl, Parvana, who lives in a one-room apartment in a war-torn Taliban-era Afghanistan with her father, mother, two sisters, and baby brother. Ellis puts a twist on the typical “coming of age” novel and explores a different type of adolescence in Parvana’s story by examining the social pressures and political struggles Afghani women and girls face under the Taliban, including restrictions on attending schools or any education opportunity.

Because she cannot attend school, Parvana immerses herself in the chaotic work world of her father who makes a living by reading and writing letters in both Dari and Pashto for illiterate Afghani locals. The Taliban puts Parvana’s father in jail for receiving an education from England, leaving the family to fend for themselves. Circumstances force Parvana to strip herself of her feminine identity and enter the marketplace as a boy – the only way to make money and purchase food.

Parvana discovers she is not the only girl disguised as a boy in the marketplace and develops a friendship with an old classmate, Shauzia. Together, the two girls are exposed to the male-dominated Afghan economy and political system. Through their adventures, the girls meet abandoned women, converse with members of the Taliban, and witness extreme violence.

Readers are guided through Parvana’s eyes and her adolescent understanding of the world. It is both riveting and sorrowful, disheartening and inspiring. It leaves readers with a greater understanding of how the lack of educational opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan affect their daily lives. Without education, women are excluded from important facets of society. With it, women gain confidence, which empowers them to actively participate in all facets of society including the economy, politics, and the workforce.

With a greater understanding, comes a sense of purpose. Readers can be expected to leave Parvana’s world with a yearning to improve the situation for Afghani girls and women. With the help of our donors and supporters, Barakat gives young girls in Afghanistan, like Parvana, the opportunity to receive an education through our two schools and literacy programs there. If you share Barakat’s vision, please donate today – your dollar goes a long way.