Mia Khan standing next to his daughter, Rozai. (Courtesy: Swedish Committee for Afghanistan)
Mia Khan standing next to his daughter, Rozai. (Courtesy: Swedish Committee for Afghanistan)

Education opportunities for girls have improved tremendously in Afghanistan in the post-2001 era, following the collapse of the Taliban regime with millions of Afghan girls having the opportunity to go to schools across the country.

But there are still barriers in some rural areas for girls to go to school including safety, lack of schools, lack of teachers and, in some cases, opposition from family members who for cultural reasons oppose girls’ education.

One father, hailing from a conservative region of Afghanistan, has pushed back against those conservative beliefs and committed himself to educating his daughters.

Mia Khan, from southeastern Paktika province, travels about 12 kilometers every day on a motorcycle to drop his three daughters off at school and pick them up.

Khan not only helps with their transportation, he also waits for four hours outside their school every day so that they can finish their studies and he can bring them back home.

“Every day I take them on a motorcycle to school. I bought the motorcycle for them so I can bring them back and forth. I am trying as best I can. I am determined to get them educated. It is 12 kilometers distance; we go back and forth every day,” Khan told VOA.

“It’s been 7 years, two of my daughters are in 7th grade and the other is in 6th grade,” he added.

Khan has three sons and eight daughters. Three daughters are in school and the rest are too young.

Poor background

Khan, who comes from a poor economic background, was faced with a tough choice. He could not afford having his sons and his daughters in school at the same time. He had to make a hard choice.

In a relatively male-dominated society, the realistic choice before Khan would have been to allow his sons to go to school so that they could help him financially in the future, especially given his personal experience of dropping out of school as a teenager when his father could no longer provide for their family.

To everyone’s surprise, Khan made an unconventional decision.

“I couldn’t do that with my daughters. I felt that I needed to make sure their future was secured and that they studied to make something of themselves and serve their country,” Khan said.

“I hope that one day my daughters will be able to support me the way that I have supported them. I am a very poor man. I hope in the future they become well-educated, that they become doctors,” he added.

Mia said there aren’t many female doctors in his home province of Paktika and those few that are there are not in it for the long haul.

“There are doctors here but they don’t stay here,” he said. “They stay for a year and take a large salary and leave. Paktika is poverty-stricken; no one pays attention to this area. That is why I want my girls to become doctors. I hope all my brothers and friends send their daughters to school,” he added.

Wife’s support

Mia Khan’s wife, Khorma, who like many Afghans goes by one name, has been a big support for Khan not only through helping him with the education of their children but also by carrying the financial burden of the family.

Khan said he is grateful for her sacrifices, especially after he fell sick and she had to provide for the family.

“My husband got sick, the walls of his heart closed and the doctors told us that he couldn’t work.   He had to stay at home and I started working in the hospital as a [janitor]. That’s when we decided that we were going to make sure that our daughters got an education,” Khorma said.

Khorma said she was more determined than ever before to make sure that her daughters were financially independent in the future and could help with their families.

“I work in a hospital with other women. I wash the floors in the hospital while the educated women have a pen, pad of paper in their hands, and are paid a higher salary. When I saw those doctors, I told my husband that I wanted my girls to get an education and live a respectful life,” she said.

“I realized the importance of education. Being able to read and write is like having light in the darkness,” she added.

Thirst for education

Talking about her husband’s commitment to education, Khorma said he has this thirst for education from his younger years when he could not go to school for financial reasons and now educating his children has been the biggest mission of his life.

“My husband is from the Kochi [nomads] tribe. He really wanted to get an education but he did not have the opportunity. His father didn’t let him get an education; instead he pushed him to work,” Khorma said.

Both parents feel that they owe an explanation to the sons in the future about why they were not able to educate them. In the meantime, they remain hopeful that they would be able to educate everyone in the family one day.

Homework

Khan’s daughter, Rozai, 13, is in 7th grade. She says it is very hard to not have someone educated in the family.

 “My mother and father did not go to school so there is no one to help us with our homework,” Rozai said.

Rozai’s sister Jannat Bibi, 12, who is in 6th grade says she and her sisters would make their parents proud one day and become doctors.

“My parents want us to be doctors but I also want to be a doctor so I can help other people. I am grateful to my parents for taking me to school every day, waiting for us to finish and then bringing us home,” she said.

Khan said his fellow villagers have initially been uneasy about his decision but now they have changed their perception.

“Alhamdulillah, the people in our village are happy for me. In fact they are proud and support me in my decision to educate my daughters,” Khan said.

“As long as I live and I have the energy, I will continue to struggle for my girls and make sure that they get an education,” he added.

VOA’s Niala Mohammad and Noshaba Ashna contributed to this story