TThe walls of the Malalay school, in the center of Lashkar Gah, Helmand, are scarred by bullets from recent weeks of fierce fighting between the Taliban and government forces, and the glass in the windows was shattered by an explosion.
Their teachers have not been paid for two months and several say they were bombed outside their homes in the final battles, but somehow they are knocking them over for their students, most of them girls.
“My house has been destroyed by bombing, even my shoes have been smashed, but I am still willing to come here and work,” said a geography teacher, Arezoo Sayedi, who shared photos of fragments of the shell that broke. his house weeks before. “We are all huddled in one room, trying to avoid mosquitoes.”
Almost half of their students are absent and the future of their jobs is unclear. The Taliban have imposed a de facto ban on adolescent girls’ education. Boys in grades 7 through 12 have been back in school for almost two weeks, while girls have been ordered to stay home.
Those girls make up 1,600 of the 3,600 female students at the Malalay school, and it is unclear whether they will ever be allowed to return or what will happen to the jobs of the women employed to teach them. The school also educates 600 children in separate classes in grades 1-3.
Teachers who are mothers of teenagers say they will leave Afghanistan unless their daughters are allowed to study, even if they want to stay in their homes and jobs. “My daughter is in the eighth grade and is still at home,” said a teacher, whose family fled Afghanistan the first time the Taliban came to power, a generation ago, allowing her to receive an education. “If the schools don’t restart here, our family is ready to go back to being refugees.”
The Taliban have called on women, many of them educated abroad the last time the group was in power, to return to work in the health and education sectors, while blocking the formation of a new generation. The irony does not go unnoticed by Afghan women.
“A society without women is not a society. We need educated women to become professionals. Women need female doctors, they shouldn’t have to go see a man when they’re sick, ”said the Malalay school teacher who plans to leave if her daughter can’t study. She asked not to be named.
There has been no official statement on plans for women’s education, although several Taliban officials have said that girls’ secondary education will resume soon. But without any details as to why the girls are still at home, many Afghan women who lived through the Taliban rule in the 1990s are skeptical.
The group later claimed to recognize women’s right to education under Islam, but said security was not good enough for girls to attend school. That almost total ban lasted the five years they were in power, although some girls were educated in clandestine schools or attended elementary classes dressed as boys.
The trend was repeated in parts of Helmand that the Taliban controlled before taking over the rest of Afghanistan in August, sparking fears that they would ban girls’ education across the country.
However, in Lashkar Gah, Abdullah Spilanay, a school principal, said that the Taliban had told him to resume classes for younger students, although they had not provided money for the school or its teachers.
“The Taliban contacted us and said that there is no problem with women teaching girls, that female teachers can continue to work,” said Spilanay, who has been in the school for two decades and is the only teacher who Works there. “It was an amazing day. They came here and met with 40 teachers, they called us brothers and sisters, and what concerns we had in our hearts. [about being able to continue work] have been dissipated. “
The cheerful chatter of the young women coming and going from class seeps into the staff room where we speak.
However, this reassurance has not turned into the funds the school needs. “There is no reason financially for them to continue teaching,” Spilanay said of the staff, who have not been paid for two months.
However, for the most part they continue to appear, although there are some gaps. A mother who had come to pick up a sixth grader said her daughter had returned to school but was not being taught. “We have been coming here for three days because they told us that classes had restarted, but no one can tell you where the teachers are.”
Some teachers are trying to repair their houses, damaged by the intense fighting; others have to find ways to support themselves after such a long time without pay. They want the international community, which has heavily subsidized education in Afghanistan, to start the cash flow again.
“I am very happy to see our students return, but it is difficult without a salary,” said Seema. “For this country and the Afghan people, foreigners should give [funds] For that.”
As the ban on secondary education continues, international funders face painful decisions. There’s no desire to pay for a system that excludes girls from high school, but unless schools like Malalay raise money, they may have a hard time keeping their doors open for younger students.
Women’s education has always been an uphill struggle in Helmand, especially at the secondary level, even though the UK has built 90 schools and spent tens of millions of pounds educating girls across the country.
Two years ago, admitted officials that outside of Lashkar Gah and the neighboring district of Gereshk, not a single girl had graduated from high school. Overall, only 4,000 girls had completed secondary school in Helmand in the two decades to 2019, the province’s education department said.
Obstacles to girls’ education included insecurity, opposition from the Taliban, poverty, child marriage, and a shortage of teachers and schools.
The years of war have been damaging in Lashkar Gah and devastating in rural areas. In the city, Taliban threats against girls’ education and militant attacks on students in other parts of the country cast a long shadow. In the countryside, well-built school grounds were often co-opted as military bases, teachers were hard to find or maintain, and fighting meant parents were reluctant to allow their children to attend schools that somehow remained. open.
For some Malalay teachers, the relative calm brought by the Taliban means that now is the time to try to expand education and recover from that troubled legacy. “Now there are no security problems. We lost too many people as teachers: a bullet, a bomb explosion and 20, 40 years of education and experience are gone, ”said one teacher, who did not want to give her name.
“If they offered us the whole of the United States, I wouldn’t go. We should come together and help this country, help Lashkar Gah. We are safe here now, so we must build. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism