My latest visit to Afghanistan was to attend to business relating to Afghan Friends Network, which I co-founded twelve years ago. I spent six days in meetings with administrators and students we serve through our programs in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
Razia, AFN Girls Scholarship Coordinator, me, Fatema, Director of the Khurasan Learning Centers
Those were the best six days of my three week trip.
Afghan Friends Network partners with local educators in Ghazni Province to help students in grades 7-12 with math, physics, chemistry, biology and english. AFN currently has two Khurasan Learning Centers (KLC) for girls and one for boys. We serve over 750 students.
The current science, math and English curriculums in the overcrowded and understaffed schools in Ghazni Province are dismal. Most schools have short school days in order to accommodate the large number of students in need of education. In a typical year at a public school, teachers are able to cover about half of the curriculum for that grade. The result is that most students aren’t able to gain a good understanding of the covered subjects. Girls are particularly impacted because of the historical lack of access to basic education.
Historic Ghazni towers. Photo by Aref Yaqoubi
By providing students with dedicated coursework in science, math and English they are able to perform better in school. We also found they are better prepared for Afghanistan’s college entry exams for the 55,000 coveted spots available in Afghanistan universities. To put this in perspective here is a little data. In January of 2015 over 460,000 high school graduates took the Konkor exam (similar to SAT). Only 55,000 students were placed in public universities without a tuition. Around 70,000 students were accepted to two-year colleges. This leaves 335,000 students with no options and a hopeless future. Private universities are advertised all over Kabul but they are expensive and not readily available in the provinces.
Our brave scholarship students who attend University in Kabul
In AFN we look for solutions not problems. Of course we were thrilled to see that our graduating students at the KLCs, with improved understanding of certain subjects and assistance in college entrance exams were acing the Konkor exam. They were able to secure competitive spots in medical, engineering and other coveted programs, but many of them were not able to attend university because their families didn’t have the bus fare to send them to Kabul. That is when we started our scholarship program.
Here I am with the boys scholarship students. The student with blacked out eyes does not want his photos on social media for security reasons. The gentleman on the far right is the AFN boys scholarship coordinator.
On this trip, I had the honor of meeting with twelve of our current scholarship students—we have eight students who have successfully graduated from University and are currently working at jobs that pay well.
Over tea, sweets and noqul (sugar covered almonds) we discussed their families, their education and their hopes for the future.
It was rewarding to meet Raheb who is in his third year of pre-law and at the 92 percentile of his class. He plans to attend law school in the United States as a Fulbright Scholar and once he returns to Afghanistan, he will seek a career in foreign service and diplomacy. I was blown away with his vision, confidence and clear plan for the future. I have no doubt he will one day be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan.
And then there was Khatera who crashed my meeting with the university scholarship girls (I met separately with the boys) to personally plead her case for a scholarship. Here is Khatera’s story in her own words…
Needless to say, the AFN board couldn’t turn down Khatera’s personal and written plea. She is now the sixteenth member of our scholarship program.
Meeting these young students were the highlight of my trip. It’s mind boggling to think that we are transforming these young people’s lives with a $50 stipend during the nine month school year.
Without this stipend, most of them would not be able to leave their villages in Ghazni to attend university in the “far away city” Kabul.
After meeting these young students, I came back with a renewed hope for Afghanistan’s future. If you want to sponsor one of our scholarship students drop a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll send you the booklet on our scholarship program along with details on each student. I hope their determination and vision gives you hope, too.