Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going to school in Afghanistan

Why does the idea of girls learning to read upset some people so much?

A tip from normblog refers us to a piece in today's Toronto Star by Kieran Green, Communications Manager for CARE Canada ("The courage of Afghan schoolgirls"). Some highlights:
Last week, newspapers around the world reported how yet another school for Afghan girls was attacked. Some sort of gas was released, sickening numerous young girls. These sorts of attacks are becoming ever more common in Afghanistan. In 2008 there were about 670. That rose to more than 800 in 2009. For 2010 CARE estimates the stats will top 1,000.
[From the New York Times: According to a study by the Afghan Public Health Ministry and the World Health Organization, "Blood tests have confirmed that a mysterious series of cases of mass sickness at girls’ schools across the country over the last two years were caused by a powerful poison gas," described as "toxic but not fatal."]
Attacks are becoming all too common. Nevertheless, this particular attack came as a shock for me. Just the day before the attack, I had visited a health-care centre not only in the same district of Kabul as that school, but barely 200 metres down the road.

What really brought it home was learning the next day that several staff members from my organization, CARE, had children in that school. At CARE, in every country where we work, the vast majority of our staff are nationals — residents of that country. So when things happen, whether natural disasters like the Haiti quake or violence like this attack, it directly touches the lives of our staff in very real ways. And yet they always pick up and carry on.

I visited the home of Sakina, one of those staff members, and met her daughter Marwa, who was one of the girls directly affected by the attack. [....]

In a week or so, my own daughters will go back to school. The biggest things we’ll have to worry about are what we can and can’t put in their lunches, and if we have all the school supplies they’ll need. We don’t have to worry whether someone will spray poison gas into their classroom because they don’t think girls should have a right to go to school. So much we take for granted.

I do know this. Never again in my life do I want to hear a small girl say the words Marwa said to me today: “I’m very afraid of going back to school. Last time I became sick. Next time I think I will die.”
But read the whole thing.

(For another Afghan story, this one from 2009, see The bravery of Afghan schoolgirls,)

--Jeff Weintraub