World Literacy Day: The elusive dream of literacy for women in Afghanistan

By Alma Begum*

Through its home schools, Daricha School (called Maktab-e Daricha in Persian) seeks to educate young girls, mothers and elderly women, many of whom have spent a lifetime dreaming of literacy, reading, and writing but have never found the opportunity to realize this dream. Not only has Daricha gathered girls who can no longer attend schools, but it encourages their mothers and other female relatives, and even neighbours to learn how to read and write.

When we receive reports on literacy programs, my colleagues and I in the technical department of Daricha enthusiastically review the videos, photos, and homework of these mothers to assess their progress. Their efforts to read and write show that women in this country love to read and write, experience new spaces, and progress, which have long been denied by oppressors both at home and in society and government.

To spread literacy as far as possible, high school girls are obligated to teach one family member in addition to their own studies. Here are some of their stories:

• Jamila* is a student in one of Kabul’s home schools who has taken on the added responsibility of educating her 54-year-old aunt, Khorigul*. Of her aunt’s seven grown children, who all have their own homes and lives, only three sons and one of her four daughters are literate. Khorigul says that hardships meant her children had no time to even think about education. As for herself, she says she had no opportunity for education in her childhood and was forced to help her mother with housework, which meant she attained thawab (Arabic for divine reward) but not literacy.

Khorigul wants to read, especially to uncover the secrets hidden in thick books. So Jamila teaches her aunt the third grade Farsi-Dari curriculum. After completing the lessons, her aunt writes them down in her notebook to practice the mystery of writing, as well as reading.

• Seddiqa* has taken on the responsibility of educating her mother, in addition to her own studies at a home school in Balkh. Her mother, Asia*, is the daughter of a religious leader. Asia had her primary education with her father at school, and can only read the 30th chapter of the Quran. She never had the opportunity to read schoolbooks and write before suitors began knocking on her father’s door. After getting engaged to her husband, her studies stopped as her in-laws considered going to school to be shameful.

Now 48, Asia recalls that she had a good aptitude in her teenage years. She’d hoped to eventually continue her education, but being a mother of young children deprived her of the opportunity. Now, her 16-year-old daughter is continuing with a home-based education not only to please herself but to realize her mother’s unfinished dream. Seddiqa and her mother have finished the first and second of their literacy books and are now working on the third. Every month, Seddiqa takes videos of her mother reading and sends us examples of her mother’s handwriting. Asia’s former aptitude has returned – she is truly talented, especially in how she pronounces words.

• Salma* from a home school in Takhar reports on her aunt’s education progress. Her uncle’s first wife, Qamarzia*, has given up on life due to her husband’s neglect and has retreated into self-isolation. She began learning to read and write when Salma assured her that literacy education was possible for her, even though she was starting later in life. Salma began teaching her the basic building blocks of literacy, starting with the alphabet. Within three months, Qamarzia can identify all the letters of the alphabet, and is now starting to read basic words. She is still amazed when she puts letters together, such as T-R-E-E to form the word “tree.” However, some words make her sad. When she puts together the letters S-O-N, she remembers her only son, who is now working in Iran as a labourer.

• In addition to teaching girls, I also have taken on the responsibility of educating my neighbour, Saleha*, whom I call “Bibi Haji” out of respect. She is the mother of nine children: eight daughters and one son. Five of her daughters are married, while the three youngest attend ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades at a Daricha home school.

Bibi Haji says many girls from her neighbourhood have gone to school, but she argued with her mother and stayed home, thinking that getting married would solve all her problems. Now, she is 62 years old and wishes she could use the pretext of studying as an excuse to step out of her house for a while. Only recently did she realize how much she wanted to learn literacy, reading, and writing, and hoped she’d been schooled years ago. But now she believes her prayers are answered. Sometimes she says, “You teach me. I will learn. I pray that God will grant you sight in His house [the ability to perform the Hajj].” I reply, “The mere fact that you are learning to read is very valuable to me.”

Bibi Haji and I are now reading a fifth-grade Dari-Farsi book. And along the way, she’s discovered what interests her the most: She doesn’t enjoy reading poems but prefers to read prose and is really captivated by texts that discuss religious topics.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees and writer. Alma Begum is part of Daricha School and lives in Afghanistan.


Source: ZanTimes