Barakat’s Literacy Programs
Getting an education for an Afghan woman can be a chancy process, often dependent on luck and timing. Traditional schools are age-restricted, omitting tens of thousands of females. In rural areas, distance to a school can be prohibitive. And there is the ever-present threat of the Taliban.
In order to best work with and accommodate Afghan females, Barakat runs literacy programs at local homes with female teachers in a safe environment. Located in the Faryab, Jowzjan, and Sar-e-Pol provinces of Northern Afghanistan, the lower-level literacy program Sewad Amousi covers grades 1 through 3, while the higher-level literacy program Sewad Hayati covers grades 4 through 9.
“Our literacy programs have no age barrier, whereas regular schools require students to be around the same age as their peers,” said a Barakat staff member. “Our students’ ages vary from 7 to 65. Some are working mothers and grandmothers, and they all learn to read and write in the same class. It is not uncommon to find a granddaughter and grandmother in the same class.”
Similarly, 14-year-old Zarghona’s family refused an education for her. “School was my childhood ambition,” she said. “Education is an instrument that shows us how to live. When we have an education, we have a good life and understand our rights and freedoms.” Her family’s opposition is now a thing of the past, however, and Zarghona has been happily enrolled in the Sewad Amousi program for five months. There is a dislike among her people of girls getting an education, she said, but she and girls like her are fighting against it.
Both Zarghona and Farida are looking forward to continuing their education and eventually becoming teachers, helping other illiterate girls and women in their community.
An older example is 37-year-old Shah Jan, married, with four boys and two daughters. Having missed the chance to get an education as a child, she has now been attending Barakat’s higher-level literacy program Sewad Hayati for five years. “I don’t think there is such a thing as too late to learn,” she said. “Education is our guide. It shows us the right way to live.”
All of her children are getting schooled, and while her community has negative ideas about girls and women being educated, she is a firm believer that things are getting better every day. Her husband, for one, thinks highly of her studies, and has allowed and supported her attendance at Sewad Hayati, Shah Jan said. She is looking forward to studying at least up to the 12th grade, and eventually working for the government or an NGO that would allow her to teach other girls and women like her.
This is possible because even though the higher-level Sewad Hayati only covers grades 4 through 9, graduates from Barakat’s literacy programs are able to attend regular schools as long as they are age appropriate. “Many of our students go on to finish high school after graduating from our literacy programs,” Barakat staff said.
Without Sewad Amousi and Sewad Hayati, many Afghan girls would never have had the opportunity to reach high school. There are still challenges, such as female teacher shortage, and demands from other areas of Northern Afghanistan that Barakat is unable to meet because of funding and security issues. But our literacy programs’ enrollment numbers are growing every year, and support from the Afghan Government's Literacy Department and the local community has been invaluable, as more and more people are beginning to understand and appreciate the importance of educating girls and women.