Tanja Khorrami and Marga Flader are reporting from their trip to Afghanistan in November 2013
Three years have passed since my last trip to Afghanistan. What seems normal to Marga because of her regular visits every six months is new and interesting for me. Construction is going on everywhere. Main roads are being repaired and asphalted, not only in Kabul but also in Mazar-e-Sharif and Andkhoi. Travelling is now much easier.
The Darulaman-Road in Kabul is slowly becoming as nice as it used to be with well cared-for trees alongside and in the middle of the road. Only the Darulaman Palace is slowly falling apart but the new building for the parliament is almost completed. Not only elaborate wedding halls and shopping malls are being built, but also western style apartment buildings – expensive! Small side roads are asphalted by neighbourhood initiative. The traffic seems more regulated – in Kabul even traffic lights are respected. However, in winter the electricity supply cannot keep up with the modernisation, especially as private homes are heated electrically and not only with traditional wood stoves. When there are power cuts, it is not only dark but also freezing.
The cold is specially bitter for the growing number of people who have built small houses on the hillsides of Kabul. It is very difficult to carry all necessary things up the hill - often even water. Much worse, however, are the living conditions for the refugees who are living in tiny mud huts or under tents or plastic sheets – only in Kabul there are 35.000 people living under such conditions. More on this below.
New and very nice was it to hear from the students from Andkhoi. The young men and women are now studying at universities in Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan, some at private universities which are supposed to offer a better quality of studies, others at state institutions. Right now we are supporting around 100 needy students from Andkhoi who are living in Kabul, Mazar, Sheberghan and Maimana with 15 USD per month. That is not very much but they are happy to have it. They would be even happier if we could construct a dormitory for them in Kabul – but these are just dreams.
It is the many private donors, the grants by German ministries and bigger organisations that made it possible for the pupils of the schools in the Andkhoi area to study at university. With these grants and donations we have been able to construct school buildings and run the many different courses. Again and again we were told that VUSAF (as we are known in Afghanistan) is something special. "VUSAF is our sun", the girls of our courses told us. This is true for the students and teachers of the six schools we have built in Mazar-e-Sharif and for the more than 30 newly built schools in the Andkhoi area and the many repaired buildings as well as for the students of our Education Centre in Andkhoi.
It is hard to imagine how many students fit into a 16 classroom building if three share one bench and if they are taught in two shifts. 2000 girls and boys are attending the Maqsadullah Shaheed school in Mazar-e-Sharif; some of these have joined our English and computer courses here. We are planning to construct a new building for a kindergarten for the approximately 80 children of the female teachers of this school next year. The schools in Neubiberg organized a sponsored run and collected more than 95.000 USD for this purpose. The clever principal of the Maqsadullah Shaheed school was so happy about the good news that he in turn encourages his students to also donate some Afghanis every month for their own school. A huge poster showing the planets and other things have already been purchased from their own money, but for a new toilet block they would need further financial help. In areas of town where the citizens are even poorer, this kind of initiative might not be possible, but they are all trying. In the Nahr-e-Top School, however, so many tables and benches will have to be exchanged because the existing ones were of bad quality that we will have to invest some of our donations for this purpose.
The ground floor of a school building with 8 classrooms, conference room, rooms for library and laboratory for the almost 3000 girls and boys of Ahmed Shah Masood School is almost completed. Hopefully with further funds from the German Foreign Office the second floor can be built next year. The representative of the German Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif was very interested in our projects and showed us that our work is appreciated and that the ministry is willing to continue supporting our projects.
In Andkhoi we saw something which was completely new for both of us: The Women's Centre in the rooms of the former electricity workshop within the grounds of our Education Centre. The manageress proudly showed us not only her office and the showroom but also the workshop. Students of the three sewing courses from the villages were working with the electric embroidery machines or electric or manual sewing machines. They were very busy because they had started sewing 660 warm padded jackets and dresses for children aged 1 to 12 which we want to distribute in the camps of Kabul. The Women Centre has had a good start: Young girls and women are coming to the centre to order, buy or sell clothes or just to talk with each other. If it continues successfully, we should consider building an extension.
The courses in our Education Centre are running successfully. Again we could admire the girls who do not spare any effort to improve their knowledge. In the "Thursday Program" they don't hesitate to take the microphone or to show in their role plays what kind of changes they would wish for the future of their country. Students of many schools not only in Andkhoi but also in the surrounding villages ask for courses like those in the city. Especially in mathematics, physics and chemistry there are not enough qualified teachers. If there are also no books available, like in most schools in the remote areas, the students have only very low chances to pass the exam to go to university. Therefore, we are trying to find possibilities of opening further courses. If the distance to the course is too far, we pay for travelling costs. For the short winter holidays we are also planning to have another training seminar for teachers of the 7th to 9th grades in mathematics and natural sciences.
In the schools in Andkhoi there are also initiatives to support the schools themselves. In one boys' school teachers and students have asked all financially better off people in the district to donate some money for their school – and we could admire the result: The school which we built eight years ago was painted bright greenwith purple decorations along the windows and doors. It is a pity that we can't see such good examples everywhere. People should first approach the head of education if their school needs repairs. If they have no funds (which is mostly the case), then they could apply for VUSAF funds from our Small Projects Scheme; in this case, they would have to show quite a high contribution of the community which is normally organized by the Teacher Parent Association of the school. It seems that we will have to increase the Small Projects Fund.
We would appreciate very much if you can donate for the Small Projects as these are financed by private donations alone. During our project visits we see how important our work both in Andkhoi and in Mazar-e-Sharif is, especially for the young generation– and 60% of the Afghan population is under 25! For the big construction projects we can send proposals to the German government, but there is so much need to help in other ways, sometimes immediately through our social fund. It would really be great if you could support us to be able to act quickly.
For our winter help in a refugee camp in Kabul we have sent a proposal to Misereor. The plan is to distribute 50 kg flour, 25 kg rice and 16 l oil each to 600 families. In addition, warm clothes, a pair of rubber boots and 2 pairs of warm socks to the children under the age of 12. Furthermore, 60 poor families living on the hillsides of Kabul will receive food packages from private donations.
Please continue supporting us so that we can carry on with our projects; there is so much to do!
Tanja Khorrami Marga Flader
A Girls School in Andkhoi