An innovative program is quietly schooling and giving scholarships to Afghanistan's girls, hoping to cement the next generation's educational gains.
Farahnaz Afaq’s father, Atiqullah, had one dream for his children: education. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, he was the first in his family to attend school. After his father died and his mother and siblings fell into poverty, Atiqullah picked through dump sites for pencils and paper, which he would smooth out and use for notebooks, which his family could no longer afford. Atiqullah went to school only part-time as he had to take on whatever jobs he could to support his mother and siblings. But he did well academically, eventually attending Kabul University and graduating with a degree in pharmacy. Afaq’s mother, Marzia, had to stop her schooling completely after her own father died when she was a young girl. Marzia wed Atiqullah when she was only 13 because he promised her that she could go back to school. Marzia went on to graduate high school and attend a program to become a kindergarten teacher.
Marzia and Atiqullah have six children, including four daughters. Life was as good as could be until Afaq was three. Both Marzia and Atiqullah held down steady jobs, earning good incomes, and their oldest children all went to school. Afaq’s teenaged sisters were, in fact, even preparing for university. That is, until 1996, when Marzia was no longer allowed to teach and Atiqullah’s pharmacy in Kabul was taken over by someone allied to the Taliban. The Islamic fundamentalist group had declared war and imposed extremely harsh social conditions on the people, and particularly on females. Afaq’s sisters had to abandon their educations completely. But there was Afaq, who hadn’t even started school, another sister, Farima, just a few years older, and a brother, who all faced illiteracy without a chance at schooling. Atiqullah and Marzia felt they had no choice. They boarded up their Kabul home and packed clothes and a few bags of food. They fled to Iran. “My parents had struggled so much for educations for all of us,” says Afaq. “Everything they struggled for, they felt disappearing between their fingers.”