Tag Archives: afghanistan

Koy Thomson – Women’s empowerement

8 Mar

All people living in remote and conflict-affected areas endure levels of anxiety and hardship that we would find hard to imagine. Women bear the additional burden of discrimination, domination and abuse. But with rights and opportunities, women can become powerful leaders of positive change.

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard. The human capability and drive to improve your own life and those of your children is blocked daily by the humiliation, abuse and disrespect engendered for being born female. Moved by what she was seeing on the high plateau of South Kivu, Thea, Children in Crisis’ Programme Manager in DR Congo wrote:

“Women are disadvantaged by their lack of education, by the paucity of life opportunities that come their way and by the deeply patriarchal society that teaches them from the moment they can talk – to be humble and servile and focus their life ambitions first and foremost on being a wife and a mother, preferably while still a teenager. They are disadvantaged by social norms that condone their subjugation in all sorts of ways including through physical violence. They continue to be affected by the horrific legacy of a decade-long conflict in which sexual violence was used extensively as a weapon to humiliate, control and ruin lives.

Those who are lucky enough to get a good education and find themselves among the small minority of the formally employed, are more often than not crippled by a lack of self-confidence and self-belief and a reflexive submissiveness to male colleagues/men in general”.

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard

‘Empowerment’ is something that comes from within. It is not something we can give or do to the women we encounter. But women are telling us what helps and are surprising us with what they value the most. The capacity to save and manage money in the company of other women has been strikingly popular and by global standards very effective, in both Afghanistan and DR Congo.

Village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) in DR Congo  

In the absence of banks, post office or other basic infrastructure, VSLAs have been instrumental in enabling isolated and self-sufficient Plateau communities in South Kivu, to raise family living standards. Thanks to the carefully saved money, health costs are more easily covered; children are in school more regularly, are better clothed and less likely to go hungry. Moreover, women (who make up more than 70% of the 705 VSLA members) have seen impressive gains in their social status, participation in community decision-making and value within the household.

Our Pamoja (Kiswahili for ‘together’) VSLA project in the remote Plateau area of South Kivu, DR Congo, started in April 2014. It consists in helping set up and providing support to groups of 20-30 community members to save regularly together and then access loans from these savings.

“Men used to think of us as children who were incapable of managing money and assets. Now they have seen that we are able to better manage what we have and that we think of the future.”

 Mrs Francine Nyarukundo, Kitembe VSLA member.

 

Women’s education, training & banking in Afghanistan

Under the Taliban, nine in ten women in Afghanistan went without any form of education. Some were married off too young, written off for life. At Children in Crisis, the education of out-of- school girls is our priority, particularly in hard-to- reach areas where poverty and displacement are the harsh reality.

The trust and respect that we build within communities in Afghanistan enables us to advocate for their daughters’ education. On a more practical level, the savings groups that are run from our education centres give women access to credit and the chance to earn and save. This stops families having to send their children out to work or, especially for girls, being married at a very young age. Instead, they can go to school, have a chance to learn and chase life’s opportunities.

The literacy and tailoring classes that we hold for women don’t only enable them to read and write for the first time, or just give them financial independence. They offer a rare chance to leave the home and socialise – an opportunity that shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

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Anne Leinonen – Kabul – Education gives a direction in life

7 Oct

Anne Leinonen is Children in Crisis’ newest recruit and will be volunteering her considerable communications and advocacy skills at our UK office for the next few months. As she was working for an organisation in Kabul, we couldn’t let Anne leave Afghanistan for Children in Crisis HQ without taking the opportunity to visit one of our Community Based Education Centres in the city. Below is her account of the visit. How wonderful to have a fresh perspective on the work of these Centres and a volunteer with such great experience of our work!

 Samir, a proud leaner, offered a friendly welcome.

“Welcome! We are happy that you are here,” a friendly voice greets me when I enter a classroom. I am immediately surrounded by shy laughter and hushed voices. The nervous giggles do not put off the friendly greeter.

“Hello. My name is Samir. How are you?” he continues in English and laughs, along with boys with whom he shares a desk at the back at the classroom.

I am visiting a Children in Crisis Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) in Kabul. Here, out-of-school children can cover an entire primary school syllabus at an accelerated pace. In Afghanistan, forty per cent of children do not go to the school.

Just 18 months ago 13-year old Samir was among the unfortunate forty per cent, as he spent his days on the streets of Kabul. One day, Children in Crisis teachers visited his parents to talk about CBEC in their neighbourhood. After the visit, Samir’s parents let him go.

The neighbourhood might be a short drive away from the city centre of the Afghan capital, but it is still far from being prosperous. Many struggle to provide for their families. Education is not a priority. It is not unusual that parents are illiterate and did not go to school either.

“I like it here. I will go to a state secondary school after this course, and I will study even after that. One day I will become a police officer and will make sure that my neighbourhood is a safe and peaceful place to live in,” Samir tells me proudly. His ethusiasm is contagious.

CiC school in Mariam's neighbourhood makes the school runs easy.

Mariam loves going to school. Having a CBEC in her neighbourhood makes the school run easy.

The school next door

Mariam, also 13, has been coming to the Community Based Education Centre for six months. The school is close to her home, so it is easy for her to come here. She loves Dari and art. At first, most of the words felt too long and a bit scary. It was pure joy and laughter when she learnt to read some of them. The importance of going to the school gets her serious.

“With education you get a direction in your life. Without education one doesn’t know even God,” she says and turns her head away shyly.

Mariam, too, hopes that she can go all the way to a state secondary school. But she does not want to talk about that. In a year or two, school might not be an option for her. In Afghanistan, the drop-out rate for school girls is unfortunately high, as the girls marry young. When they reach puberty, the parents feel staying at home is safer for the girls and their reputation. This makes the primary school education that Mariam is getting at Children in Crisis’ CBEC and the efforts of her teachers to advocate for her further education that much more important.

Open doors

In Afghanistan, the government is unable to provide schools for all. Organisations like Children in Crisis bring education to these deprived neighbourhoods. Thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Education, the children completing primary school education are guaranteed a place in a state secondary school – girls and boys.

“We research which neighbourhoods need our support most and where people would be keen to attend the classes. Then, we meet with the community elders to discuss our project,” says Timor Shah Abid, the Country Director of Children in Crisis in Afghanistan.

Open doors policy is part of the close ties with the community. Every community member can visit the Centre to see what happens there. That also brings security. When people trust the Centre and its staff, there have not been any problems with security. The communities make even sure that the girls can walk to their lessons without being disturbed.

Currently Children in Crisis runs two Community Based Education Centres in Kabul. The demand for quality education, however, exceeds the two neighbourhoods…

Peter Simms – Afghanistan – In these rooms, women had power

27 Mar

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

This month, classes at Children in Crisis’ current five Community Based Education Centres (CBECs) project in Afghanistan, came to an end. We are now working on opening Centres within other communities that need their support.

Every community project comes to an end and interventions, however long, can never be permanent. These five latest Education Centres run by Children in Crisis have been incredibly successful, helping women and children to access basic education. 300 children, mostly girls, from some of the poorest communities in Kabul have been able to gain a full primary education despite never having previously been to school. In addition, over 1,000 women from these communities have learned to read, write, and develop other critical skills at the CBECs.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

For the girls who came to these Centres they will be half as likely to marry before their 16th birthday, and far less likely to be a mother before the age of 15. The women will be twice as likely to have their own children live past the age of five, and for every year of schooling will have a 20 per cent increase in household earnings.

However, the benefits of these centres go beyond statistics. The girls and women who came to these five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

From extensive research done around the world, we know that girls who learn to read and write will be more likely to work, to support their families, and to be economically independent. But the realities of life here in Afghanistan pose an added barrier to this empowerment. The lack of access to education for girls in Afghanistan was always a symptom of broader gender inequalities and reflected deep social norms inhibiting their participation in not only schools, but also in society and communities as a whole.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Reducing education to its rate of return is simply inadequate as a measure of impact in Afghanistan. Instead we need to look closer, to look harder at what education actually means to children and women of these communities. Paolo Freire showed how education allows people to be able to read the world – to describe, and then define, their contexts – to be truly conscious.

As I spoke to women in the CBECs it was clear that, despite progress made, their world is still not one of open opportunity.  However, the Community Education Centres offered something more – ‘A place to gather’ was the most common response; ‘a chance to leave the house’; ‘to be outside’. Many said it was where they could share experiences with other women. Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak. In these rooms women had power, and through shared experience they could develop resilience.

One Community Education Centre is not going to break the deep-rooted structures of gender inequality in Afghanistan, but it can begin a process and encourage dialogue where women have a space to assert themselves and develop their own identities. The skills of reading and writing can then empower that identity, allowing someone to use a telephone, read a medicine box, or help a child with their homework.

Children in Crisis' latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis’ latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis will be opening new CBECs in other marginalised communities over the coming year, taking a model that we know works and expanding it to reach even more women and children. We will work in areas where others don’t go, meaning the challenges will be greater and the achievements relative to just how deprived these communities are.

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

Children in Crisis has currently been able to find support for two new Community Based Education Centres. We are still seeking funding to help us open the remaining three Centres within communities whose children and women need assistance. If you, your company or Charitable Foundation think you could help, please email Peter on peters@childrenincrisis.org

Pete Simms – Afghanistan – Children’s voices

1 Dec

I especially enjoy talking to children, who seem able to stay optimistic, to dream big, and have real, genuine hope for the future. 

2014 has been a critical year for Afghanistan with elections and troop withdrawal characterising a change in the direction of the country. There is now a new President, one who promises to end the corruption that permeates so much of Afghan politics, and the national military have now taken over responsibility for security from NATO. But what does this change mean for the average person and what does it mean for organisations like Children in Crisis who are trying to bring the right to education to some of the most underprivileged children in the country?

The first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history was an incredible achievement. Democracy only works if people believe in it, and during the election thousands of Afghans defied the threats of the Taliban, the distance to the voting booth, and the corruption of the political system to cast their vote and have their voice heard.

The challenges to building a stable, peaceful nation are still enormous, but people are now demanding that they be heard, that their voice be listened to. This is a significant step along the path to meeting basic human rights and of building a pluralistic society that values the role of all.

Much of the focus on the election was on the involvement of women, and for somewhere that has systematically and structurally undermined the concept of gender equality, the 38% of voters who were women should be celebrated.

At Children in Crisis we believe that everyone’s voices should be heard and that a society should listen to its most vulnerable as much as its most powerful. I spend a lot of my time talking to the people we work with, listening to their stories and to their hopes for the future. I especially enjoy talking to children, who seem able to stay optimistic, to dream big, and have real, genuine hope for the future. Adults can be cynical, sceptical of change and distrustful of those offering it, but children are not.

CBEC pupils 1

I recently spoke to a young girl called Sabera. She had moved to Kabul with her family five years earlier to escape the conflict that still continues in much of the country. Her family was extremely poor and, like most girls in Afghanistan, Sabera had never been to school before Children in Crisis opened a Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) near to her home. Her father is a day labourer and she and her brothers and sisters all work to make sure there is enough food every day.

When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said she wants to be a teacher. She wants to help other children go to school. What impressed me so much about this 12 year old girl’s answer was how she immediately, unquestioningly, wanted to help others. Her hope and dream was to make sure other children receive their basic right to education.

When I asked Sabera about what she wanted for Afghanistan her answers were a mix of the deeply personal and the universal. She wanted a home of her own, an understandable dream for someone who lives in a temporary shelter and who craves a foundation, a structure to an otherwise temperamental existence. She wanted peace – more than anything she talked about security, about an end to her constant fear. She said she wanted people in Afghanistan to be friends with each other.

Afghanistan has certainly improved in the 13 years since the removal of the Taliban regime. However the decision to draw down the international military support and to reduce the humanitarian and development aid to the country is far too premature. The gains made in bringing quality education to the first ever generation of Afghan children should be celebrated, but while more than half of school-aged children are still denied access and are required to work to help feed their families there should be no thought of turning back.

Group of kids - 700 pixels wide

In one of our CBECs in Kabul I sat with a group of children enjoying the last few days of the autumn, the snow already visible on the line of mountains that snakes around the capital. Rafi told me he wanted to be a pilot, or a football player, and that he hoped that in the future Afghanistan would be like other countries. He listed off the names of the main international contributors – the US, Germany, the UK – these far away countries that he has heard so much about. He said he wanted the different ethnic groups to live together; a pertinent point for this divided country. Nazifa, a bright and precocious young girl who, in line with her dream of one day being a judge, said she wanted the new President to bring justice, to help poor people, and to build more hospitals.

two boys - 700 pixels wide

All of the children talked of their wish for the fighting to stop. They talked about ending the sounds of war – the bombs, the guns, the explosions. Sara wanted to be a doctor when she grows up so that she can help her community. When I asked her what she wanted most of all, what she dreamed of, she said to end the violence against girls like her and against women like her mother.

As the troops are pulled out it is more important than ever to step up our work in Afghanistan. We cannot allow the situation to slip backwards. Incredible achievements have been made; people have started to imagine a future of optimism – we have a responsibility to try and make that a reality.

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

 

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A chance to learn, a chance in life

9 Sep

“Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.”

In the first of a series of blogs about our 21st anniversary campaign, our CEO Koy Thomson highlights some of Children in Crisis’s achievements over the last 20 years.  Achievements only made possible because of the generosity and support of our donors and supporters.  We wanted to take the opportunity to thank you.  

John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

Koy Thomson (left of picture) meets John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

 

We are really excited to launch our 21st anniversary campaign ‘A chance to learn, a chance in life’ (#ChanceToLearn).

21 years is a coming of age, as with every birthday, we thought it’s important to take stock and reflect on what you’ve helped us achieve in the last two decades.

It is thanks to your desire to take a stand and do something in a world that is often chaotic and unfair that we have achieved so much.

With your help we have built more than 48 schools, trained more than 10,500 teachers and educated more than half a million children.

In Sierra Leone, we’ve provided vocational training to nearly 1,000 child soldiers, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo we have improved education for some 57,000 children in 50 schools and in Afghanistan nearly 500 women who missed education because of the war, graduated from vocational training and three-quarters of them have been able to set up livelihoods as a result.

It has been a long journey to our present focus on education and child protection. In the early years, we delivered safe water for 200,000 people in former Yugoslavia, provided medical assistance to 8,000 children in Russia and treated 6,700 children in Poland for cancer and chronic illness.  In Afghanistan, 10,000 children have been protected from abuse and mistreatment and over 100,000 street working and out of school children have receiving accelerated teaching.

Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.  Because resources are scarce the support must be long-lasting. Our aim is to improve the lives of children and their communities in some of the most remote, post-conflict territories by delivering sustainable education.

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

 

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

 

In total over the past 20 years with your help, we have reached and helped nearly 1.4 million children and their families.

Your support to these children’s education and protection has given them the best start for living a happy and healthy life. I have no doubt that because of you, they face a brighter, better future.

A huge thank you from us and all the children we have helped.  Without our supporters we couldn’t have done all this.

But some of our projects are under threat which is why we have launched an urgent appeal.  Ebola in West Africa and political transition in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on our work.

We need to adapt to the circumstances and play an active role in providing a preventative and protection response.  To fulfil our commitment so that children and communities can fulfil their dreams of receiving a quality education and to create and continue their small business enterprises to support their families.

But this needs resource and we really need your support.

It’s so important that the UK government’s UK Aid Match Scheme is supporting us between September and December.  Every pound raised from the British public will be doubled AND if you are a UK tax payer, we can benefit from Gift Aid too.  So your donation will work even harder and go even further.

Please help.  It’s really vital.

Thank you.

Please pledge your support, so that Children in Crisis can reach out to many more vulnerable children, and give them a chance to learn, a chance in life.

Follow #ChanceToLearn on twitter and facebook.

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Bethan Williams – Hadisa – a wonderful young lady

18 Jun

Children in Crisis is sorry to say that after years of dedicated, professional service, Bethan Williams, Programme Manager for Afghanistan, recently left Children in Crisis. As a parting gift Bethan wanted to write a blog about a cause very close to her heart…

 

I feel honoured to be a part of the life of such a brave father and wonderful young lady. 

6 months ago I only had 1 sister, now I seem to have 3. The first new one didn’t surprise me too much since my now husband and I had been planning our wedding for a while but the third one was a bit more of a surprise.

I gained the third sister late one Tuesday night a few months ago somewhere on the A40 in a taxi from Heathrow. Hadisa is a 16-year-old Afghan girl I originally met in Kabul in 2012. Hadisa was born with a severe facial deformity and  it’s only as a result of the dedication and care paid to her by her loving father that she’s alive today.  Children in Crisis originally met Hadisa in 1997 just after we’d opened our office in Kabul and under the Taliban regime. Hadisa’s father brought her to a hospital supported by Children in Crisis where she was seen by two surgeons from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The surgeons decided that Hadisa’s case was so severe she would need to come to the UK for treatment. The medical plan was always for three operations, one to ensure the hole in Hadisa’s brain was closed to reduce the risk of her contracting meningitis, the second to further improve her medical chances and the third to give her the features of an adult face.

Hadissa with her father during their current stay in London.

Hadisa with her father during their current stay in London.

Hadisa and her father came first to the UK in 1998 and then her second trip took place in 2002 a few years before I joined Children in Crisis. I’d heard about Hadisa before I met her, Hadisa’s story is well known within the organisation, particularly how, when Hadisa and her father returned to Afghanistan her father would cycle Hadisa and her two younger brothers on his bike to attend the Children in Crisis school we were running in Kabul. When I took on the management of the Afghanistan Country Programme in 2008 it was clear that we needed to fulfil our promise to Hadisa and her father, to ensure she had her final operation.

Hadisa with her father outside the Children in Crisis office in Kabul, Afghanistan after her second operation.

Hadisa’s father cycling her to the Children in Crisis school in Kabul, after her second operation.

After a review of her situation in 2006 the surgeons advised that she would need another operation in around six years. This was fed back to Hadisa’s family by our team in Kabul. Right on time in January 2012, Hadisa’s father got on the phone to our Office Manager in Kabul and wanted to know what the plan was. When I first met them both I was confronted by a bright Afghan school girl, dedicated to her studies. In one of our meetings Hadisa passed me a note that she’d written in English with the help of her teacher ‘please, please help me. Things are very hard and people are not kind to me’. Although Hadisa has the full support of her father, other members of her family and the wider community are not so kind. In those early meetings I didn’t have much opportunity to speak with Hadisa, we mostly discussed the logistics of getting them to the UK, feeding back reports I had received from the surgeons, requesting additional health checks and finally, in October 2013, asking them to make the trip to Pakistan to secure their UK visas.

Finally after all our meetings, with the support of our team in Kabul many of whom remember Hadisa as a baby and the charity founded by the two surgeons who originally met Hadisa, Facing the World, I found myself in Heathrow Airport arrivals waiting for Hadisa and her father. We almost missed them as they confidently pushed their trolley of luggage into arrivals. After the long process of getting everyone into the taxi plus luggage and everyone’s seatbelts on, we were on the road. Hadisa claimed she didn’t remember anything about her two previous trips to London until we saw a red London bus ‘I remember that!’ she proclaimed before she turned to me and said ‘can I call you sister?’, then turned to her father and asked in Dari ‘can I call her sister’. Since that night I’ve had a third sister.

Me, with my newest sister

Me, with my newest sister

I’ve learnt how brave Hadisa is, she told me that she never cries because she wants to stay strong. It is only in our conversations here in London that I appreciate the full extent of the discrimination Hadisa has faced. From the moment she was born when the nurse called her father into the delivery room and said ‘this is your daughter, what would you like me to do with her?’ to the time her Uncle in Peshawar suggested to Hadisa’s father that if they took her to a crowded market in another part of the city they could leave her there and she wouldn’t be able to find her way home.

With the help of Afghans in London, Hadisa now has a laptop and after we managed to get them on the internet under the guise of allowing her father to watch the Afghan news it wasn’t long before she was playing me YouTube videos of ‘Afghan Star’ the equivalent of The X Factor whilst her father looked on despairingly and rolled his eyes.  It’s likely that Hadisa will have to have three procedures when she’s here in the UK, one of which she has already undergone. In her style, Hadisa wooed all the nurses who didn’t want to say goodbye to her with her thank yous for everything and her excellent English. It’s a joy to have my Afghan sister here in the UK and I’ll cherish these months and the joy she’s getting from them. I feel honoured to be a part of the life of such a brave father and wonderful young lady.

 

Update:

Subsequent to Bethan having written this blog Hadisa has undergone further surgery. We are pleased to announce that she is responding well to treatment. Hadisa is due to undergo her final procedure on 19th June. She and her father will return to Kabul as soon as she has recovered from her surgery.

 

Learn about Children in Crisis’s current work in Afghanistan here.

Support Children in Crisis’s work here.

 

Najib Afghan – Afghanistan – A visit to Kabul

10 Sep

“Mountains never meet but human beings do”

“Mountains never meet but human beings do” is a proverb here in Afghanistan. It means that societies only function effectively if people are willing to help each other. I always thought America as being at the other end of the world and that a son of cobbler like me would never leave the village where I grew up, let alone travel to another country. Jerome Starkey changed all that and is the director of my story. He is the Africa correspondence for The Times newspaper and we met 4 years ago in Helmand when I was only 14. Jerome witnessed a rocket explosion fired by the Taliban which killed my 11 year old brother and left me seriously injured. The Afghan doctors did what they could, but Jerome contacted Solace for the Children, a non-profit organisation which looks after injured Afghan children, and I was sent to America for further treatment. After 6 months and four surgical procedures, I was feeling much better – especially after the consultant ophthalmologist, Dr Nasrollah Samiy, removed the shard of shrapnel that had lodged behind my retina (although sadly the doctors could not restore sight to my injured eye).

CBEC children, Kabul

Smiley pupils at the Children in Crisis run community based education centre (CBEC) in Kabul which Najib visited.

On my return to Kabul, I enrolled at a high school and was looked after by Ted Achilles, the inspirational founder of the School of Leadership (Sola), and learned to read and write. In 2011 Sola was forced to stop teaching boys as there had been complaints about co-educational classes. Jerome contacted his old school, Stowe, to enquire about the possibility of a scholarship and a chance for me to study in the UK. After the ordeal of a 50 minute telephone interview with the Headmaster, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, I was astonished to receive the news that I would be given the chance to become a Stoic. Within two weeks of the interview, I had a passport, visa, transport papers and the prospect of a new life at one of the UK’s top public schools.

At Stowe, as well as studying Biology, Maths and Chemistry (I dream of a career in Medicine), I take English as a second language classes. I have tried to get involved in all aspects of school life – taking part in house and school sports and joining the community service programme, Service at Stowe, which allows me to make regular visits to elderly people who live locally. I particularly enjoy football and athletics and specialise in the steeplechase. What makes me, perhaps, unusual is that I am asked to talk about my background more often than the average Stoic! I have told my story on the BBC World Service and have given talks about life in Afghanistan at Asia House and at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank as part of the Alchemy Festival. During the Alchemy Festival I met Koy Thomson:  “very good speech, Najib! I am chief executive of Children in Crisis, can you please give this card to your headmaster, Anthony Wallersteiner?” He handed me his business card and talked to me as though he had known me all my life.

Children in Crisis (CiC) is a charity which was founded by Sarah, the Duchess of York, twenty years ago to give children in some of the world’s poorest countries the education they need to transform their lives and inoculate them against future poverty and resurgent conflict. I was eager to find out more about their work, particularly in my own country of Afghanistan and visited the Children in Crisis offices in South London. A month after my initial meeting with Koy, it was announced that Stowe would be adopting Children in Crisis as the school charity for the coming academic year. Fundraising was launched at a concert by legendary Old Stoic and singer-songwriter Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, to celebrate Stowe’s 90th anniversary. Before the concert, I was honoured to meet CiC’s founder and president, Sarah, the Duchess of York and her daughter, HRH Princess Eugenie, and with the CiC team we managed to raise almost £6,000 for the charity. As part of the school’s partnership with CiC I was asked to visit some of their projects in Kabul this summer when I returned home to visit my family.

Najib CiC t shirt

Najib meets CiC Founder Sarah, Duchess of York and HRH Princess Eugenie at the Roger Hodgeson concert. The man on the right is Stowe’s headmaster Dr Anthony Wallersteiner.

Kabul streets are a huge contrast to those in London. There are no rubbish bins, the roads are unlevelled with  open sewers and stagnant pools of waste water in front of many houses. 5 million children in Afghanistan are unable to attend school and will be condemned to the same poverty trap as their parents. I was very moved when I saw CiC’s educational programme working in such a poor communities.  CiC’s community based education centres (CBECs) offer mainly ‘catching classes’ for children who have missed vital stages in their primary education so that they can join state schools at the grade appropriate to their age. Some of these children have missed 3 or 4 years of education or may not yet have started school. In the UK, it might be compulsory for every family to send their children to school, but here in Afghanistan it does not always work like that and matters were not helped when the government tried to prevent overcrowding in primary schools by passing a law which forbids the enrolment of any child over the age of nine. As a result, thousands of children were unable to access an education because they were unlucky enough to be born into conflict.

CBEC 2 Kabul

A pupil leading her class at a (CBEC) in Kabul

The past 3 decades of civil war in Afghanistan have caused the country’s economy to drop dramatically. We now have a free market and there is no minimum wage for workers. Latifa, aged 11, used to make carpets and is now in her “catching class” at the CiC educational centre. This bright girl lost her father during the war when she was only 2 years old and missed two years of her primary school education when she was asked to contribute to the household income by joining her mother and sister in making carpets. She is happy to be enrolled at one of CiC’s educational centres and spoke confidently when I asked her which lesson she enjoys the most: “I enjoy all my lessons”.

The classes at CiC’s education centres provide amazing opportunities for more than 300 state school children to boost their knowledge in subjects in which they experience difficulties. Through intensive teaching and learning they can cover the complete Afghan primary school syllabus and compete for places at state secondary schools. As we came out of one catching class, we encountered a group of young children who are learning Pashto as a second language (Pashto is one of the two official languages in Afghanistan, the other being Dari). CiC is topping up their educational attainment to prevent them falling behind any further or, worse still, dropping out completely. This is particularly important for girls who have been deprived of any education because of traditional attitudes or fears for their safety. 
Lastly, CiC education centres provide extremely valuable adult literacy and vocational classes. The mother or older sister who has remained uneducated is given the opportunity to learn how to read and write for the first time. Alongside literacy classes, they can take cookery classes or learn tailoring skills so that they can open up their own businesses. You would be surprised to see how many people turn up for these classes.
Najib talks to a pupil at the centre in Kabul

Najib talks to Madina about her experience of being at the CBEC in Kabul

Madina is a mature student who walks for an hour to get to the educational centre to attend literacy classes. I asked about her background: “we lived in the country and there was no school when I was growing up and later when one was built, it was only a boys’ school.” I asked how she felt now that she can read and write: “When I could not read and write, I always felt I was missing something very important in life. It is a very hard life if you cannot dial a number in your phone or cannot read the signs or notices in shops”. Madina thanked her teachers and CiC  for opening a world of new possibilities and hope.

Unfortunately, however, the numbers of educational centres in Kabul are limited and the CiC funding is only for three years, and it has now passed the half-way stage.  Towards the end of our visit to the education centre, a group of literacy students turn up at headmistress’ office to implore us to find the funds to continue CiC’s work. There are many issues surrounding illiteracy in Afghan communities and I have been extremely fortunate to benefit from a fully-funded education in the UK. I don’t feel that I am a different person – I am still the same Najib, son of illiterate cobbler and an Afghan – but I do have choices and can access a world of knowledge that other children can only dream about.

Showing pictures from the day to children from the centre

Najib shows pupils his photos from the centre visit

Unfortunately, my homeland is still a dangerous place: returning from a family visit, I was in a minibus which was stopped by a terrorist road block on the Helmand to Kabul Highway. I was asked get out of the vehicle and a search began. As I was carrying a computer, camera and school text books in English, I feared the worst as the Taliban strongly disapprove of western education and those who collaborate with the British or Americans are condemned as Translators. Terrorists threaten all intelligent people in Afghanistan, from politicians to civilians and it is impossible to predict what might happen if you fall into their clutches. On this occasion, I was lucky as they were distracted by another car and the search was not completed. You never know what will happen tomorrow, whether you will be alive or not. I am fortunate as I have survived and all I want to do now is to raise as much money as I can to help educate the poor children in my beleaguered country and I can only do this with your help. I hope that something can be done to continue the fantastic work of Children in Crisis in Afghanistan: even if you only donate a little, it all adds up and the transformational effect can be profound. Please give generously to the Afghan education project so we can make a difference to the lives of children trapped in war.