AFGHANISTAN: Interview with Nadya, rural teacher

Paktika, 13 October 2003 (IRIN) - Nadya is a 25 year-old female teacher who lives in Mashkhail, a remote district 15 km from Sharan, the principal town in the conservative southeastern Afghan province of Paktika. Her experiences highlight many of the problems the government faces in bringing education to the millions who need it.

In an interview with IRIN, she said that many more girls would be at school if there were more female teachers like her. She added that Afghanistan needed more female professionals in general as a means of promoting greater women's participation in this male-dominated society. Her classroom is a tent pitched in the corner of a compound in Mashat Kheyl village. As far as she knows, she is the only female teacher in the province.

Following the fall of the Taliban regime nearly two years ago, the Afghan government has prioritised education in the war-ravaged country, with the result that over 3 million children, including hundreds of thousands of girls, have returned to school. But after such a long period of war, lack of teachers, school buildings and equipment, as well as cultural resistance to the education of girls, are some of the key issues facing Kabul.

QUESTION: How did you start teaching girls in your village in this conservative province?

ANSWER: I am the only literate woman in this heavily populated province working outside home and, more important, the only female teacher in this traditional province. My husband and I came to Paktika right after our wedding. When the elders of Mashkhail found out I was literate, the elders on the shura [consultative council] requested from my husband if I could volunteer teaching their daughters, mostly those older girls who were not allowed to be taught by a male teacher.

I am paid about US $35 per month by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and teach girls of grade five and six. However, most of the families do not let their daughters study more than grade five, or maximum, six. But I still think it is a big success if at least I can raise them one or two grades more. Before I came to the village, families did not let their daughters study more than grade four, saying that they were young and should not go to male teachers.

Q: So local interest in girls' education is growing?

A: I have realised in two years that people really want their daughters and even their wives to go to school if there are women there to teach them. We need more doctors, local officials and even aid workers: this will encourage more women to come out of their houses and help change this country. The only way to rescue the women here is to bring in more women workers in different fields.

But more must be done to bring the girls here [school]. If there is an incentive for students in the shape of cash or clothing it will encourage the community to send their daughters to school. People do not hate education, but there is low public awareness of the benefits of education. Some families still say if their daughters study higher classes they will forget their cultural values. Many parents still prefer their daughters to learn traditional embroidery and handicrafts rather than literacy and other subjects.

Q: As the only woman teacher around here, how does the community relate to you?

A: The community respects me a lot. I really like it when big and elderly women respect me and thank me for teaching their daughters. They respect me as if I am their community elder or community head. However, it is still very unusual when people see a woman worker here, either as a surveyor or teacher or doctor. So, in the beginning, they [villagers] looked at me with suspicion, but and now they have realised how useful I am for them.

Q: What are you doing to encourage people to send their daughters to school?

A: I try to raise women's awareness about the value of education, mainly when I go to wedding parties and some other occasions when many villagers are present. I encourage them to send their daughters and allow them to study further than fifth grade. But unfortunately many people are unaware and do not know the value of literacy.

In the community, there are families of 30 to 50 members, and women and girls are expected to do a lot of work around the home. So they say they need their daughters at home. I also offer them Islamic teaching, which says education is blessed, and this helps me persuade some people to bring their girls to the school.

Q: What more should the government and aid community be doing to boost education in places like Paktika?

A: I don’t agree with the government and international community when they claim they have given top priority to education. There are very simple ways that are not too expensive and too complicated to improve education in rural areas.

I am sure there are many women teachers in the capital that would come with their husbands to teach in rural areas if they were paid good salaries. In fact, the government should have started [the process of] improving education in rural areas, not cities, where people generally already know how important education is. If the problem is lack of female teachers and school buildings, then I don’t think it is impossible for the internationally supported Afghan government.

Q: As a teacher, how do you keep yourself informed of current affairs in such an isolated place?

A: There is no communication and no means of mailing anything. I have not been to Kabul since I got married, and I needed a calendar and made one myself as there are no such things available in the whole province. To know what is happening in the country, I listen to BBC radio and Radio Liberty. Also, Radio Afghanistan [state radio] has started broadcasting programmes throughout the country for and by women. It helps me a lot when they [villagers] listen to the radio with a woman speaker [broadcasting from it].

Q: Apart from education, what do you see as the main developmental needs in this part of Afghanistan?

A: Lack of health facilities and education are very severe problems. This causes the spread of preventable illness among women. There is no operational hospital in the whole province and there is not even a midwife. I myself have seen many women die during or before childbirth. We have to take a patient to neighbouring Ghazni Province hospital, which is hundreds of kilometres by car.

Lack of drinking water nearby means women have to bring water from natural springs too far from their homes. My son is sick and I know he is malnourished and will be more severe if I don’t take him to hospital. We don’t have proper doctors and medicine to treat him or hospitalise him here.

Q: You are a rare individual in rural Afghanistan, a literate professional female, what are your aspirations?

A: I attended a midwifery training course by an aid agency in another village and so far there have not been any other opportunities. I am one of very, very few literate women in Paktika, and my husband has no objection to allowing me to represent Paktika women in the forthcoming constitutional Loya Jirga, but so far no one from the constitution commission has come to our village to offer me the opportunity.

Theme (s): Children, Gender Issues,


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