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Afghan Girls Schools Open - 2002-03-26

Schools in Afghanistan are open. For five years of Taleban rule, girls were barred from formal education. Young women can now not only acquire knowledge, but also learn skills that will help feed themselves and their families.

There is little at the Jamhoriat Vocational School in Kabul. There are few desks and no textbooks. Pens and paper are in short supply. Many of the classroom windows are gone, replaced only by tattered plastic that lets in cold wind on a blustery day. Much of the equipment the teachers use to train students is gone or in bad repair.

Yet, even war, civil strife, and repressive rule could not erase the dreams of the young women here.

After a young student named Sidiqa tells of her dream, other students chime in. "We would like to take a role, play an important role in the future of Afghanistan," Sidiqa said. "And also we would like to be journalists, doctors, engineers, and work in different areas."

STUDENT 1: "I would like to work in the bank."
STUDENT 2: "I would like to be a teacher, and I would like to teach."
STUDENT 3: "I would also like to be a teacher in the future."
STUDENT 4: "I would like to be a doctor."
STUDENT 5: "I would like to be an efficient teacher and to help my people."

All these hopes would have been impossible under the harsh rule of the Taleban, when girls were forbidden any chance at education or training.

At the Jamhoriat Vocational School, the students learn practical trades as well as traditional lessons. Here the faculty teach tailoring, embroidery, accounting, and bookkeeping. There are also classes to learn English and German.

The school was built by funds from Germany in the 1960's. On this particular day, an elderly woman from Germany who taught at the school until 1979 has returned after a 23-year absence.

Bearing some rudimentary German lesson cards, Ruthild Meyer-Oehme remembers earlier times. "The school was of course in a much better condition," Ms. Meyer-Oehme said. "And in those days, there were 2,000 students being taught here in this school."

Teacher Hafiza Danish recalls that many of the young women who graduated from her accounting and economics course won good jobs. Ms. Danish said, "In the past, when they were going to the central bank, we used to see that most of the students who were graduates of this school, they were working there. And also some of the chiefs of the departments, they were the graduates of the Jamhoriat Vocational School. And when you would go there, you would think that you were in the Jamhoriat Vocational School because there were so many of the graduates in that bank."

But the bank is now empty of cash and its once-proud vocational school graduates. And the Jamhoriat Vocational School has barely 30 students.

When the Taleban came, they ejected the girls and their teachers and turned the school into a madrassa, a boys-only religious school. Crucial items such as sewing machines were looted, the teachers say, although they tried to save what little they could.

Like all schools in Afghanistan, the school desperately needs help. But the teachers and their students are now slowly picking up the pieces.

Ms. Meyer-Oehme says there is interest in Germany in helping revive the school. And, one day, perhaps a new generation of young women graduates will take their place in forging a new Afghanistan.