It’s funny to think how a majority of American youth, at some point, go to great lengths to avoid school work, putting off homework, skipping school (sorry mom!), not studying for tests, all but scoffing at education. I’m not exempt from this – yes I skipped class and procrastinated on papers, even when I was paying for my college education. Easy access to education is something we, as American’s, take for granted. And now that I’m in Afghanistan I see the struggle the people face not just for the basics – food, shelter, clothing etc., but for their future.
Some people may discount Afghans, saying they are illiterate, uneducated, don’t know how about the world around them and it’s true. They are illiterate, uneducated and don’t know all the opportunities that exist out there for them. But they are SO hungry to learn. I’ve talked to a police woman who joined before she had reached the minimum legal age just to continue her education, and I am currently working on a story about the various literacy programs being offered to the population through Afghan National Security Forces basic training. These literacy programs are so popular that the students are bringing their families to class, parents are teaching what they learned to their children at home and often there is a waiting list to get into classes. The organizations that run the literacy programs are so overwhelmed with the demand that they are trying to recruit more teachers to fill the demand.
Yes it’s going to take work and dedication … nothing worth having is easy and they haven’t been fortunate enough to have had years of natural progress and development. They aren’t all uneducated or illiterate; the older generation, those born and raised before Russian occupation and subsequent civil war and rise of the Taliban, are the ones currently teaching the younger how to read and write. The youth of Afghanistan, those who are supposed to be leading the country into the future, don’t know how to hold a pencil, write their names or read a newspaper. And when you’re trying to survive decades of war, education isn’t a top priority. Fortunately for Afghans, this wasn’t always the case; there are plenty of educated Afghans, those who left the country during the wars but came back once the U.S. and NATO forces arrived, the ones who were going to school when the conflicts began and those who are doing their damndest to educate themselves now. Most everyone I’ve talked to say that the Afghan people have an intense desire for knowledge; my own experience has proved similar; they want to know, they ask questions and they are immensely curious.
I see American children shunning education in favor of hanging out at the mall, playing video games and hanging out with friends and I wonder how they would feel if getting an education suddenly became a challenge. We take our education, and our easy access to learning opportunities, for granted. It makes me wonder what it would be like to have to literally fight for an education, to know that by going to school could mean real physical danger – to have acid thrown in my face as I walk to school, to have people blow a school up rather than let me go or to have it forbidden completely. Or what it’s like to know all of that was possible, yet going anyway.
I think that, more than anything says something about the Afghan people. It says volumes about their determination, resiliency and their desire to learn and become better, as individuals and as a nation. And I think with that going for them, literally nothing can hold them back. It’s only a matter of time.