During the past two weeks, I have worked extensively with the AWN Youth Committee, a group of 21 girls that come in a few times a week for workshops. The girls are ages 16-21 and most have lived in Peshawar for most of their lives. I will be working with these girls for two hours a week on their English grammar and conversation skills as well as on some basic accounting, finance, and economics.
For homework one night, I assigned the girls to write answers to questions prepared by AWN. One such question was ‘why are women important?’ While listening to the girls read their answers aloud, I heard many of the same responses. ‘Because there is no love in a house without woman’, ‘Because women take care of the children’, ‘Because women are there for everyone’ and ‘Because they are mothers.’ What was absent from their responses was alarming. Out of the 10 girls that did the assignment, not a single one mentioned the other contributions that women have made to society. There was no mention of female political leaders like Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, or Madeleine Albright. Nothing was said about the huge societal contributions made by female doctors, lawyers, engineers, or astronauts. For these girls, the contributions women make to society are confined to the home in their roles as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. While discussing this with Leeda, I learned that there is an Afghan proverb that when roughly translated says, ‘women are born to a home, and are meant to live and die in that home’.
When I asked some of the girls how their parents felt about them coming to the center, I received mixed responses. Some said their parents were very opposed to them coming. One even said that her father was convinced that the center was dedicated to turning women against men. Others mentioned that that their extended families thought it inappropriate for a girl to be going to a center alone. Still, there are a few whose parents were grateful that the center exists since there is a lack of educational opportunities for Afghans living in Pakistan. The number of seats available to Afghan students at Pakistan’s public schools is limited. In addition, the Pakistani school entrance exams for interested students are difficult for Afghan students to pass since most attend Afghan schools. The quality of these Afghan schools is so poor that if the girls return to Kabul, they are held back two grades. Afghanistan doesn’t consider the Afghan schools in Pakistan to be accredited institutions and doesn’t accept their high school completion certificates. In this manner, these girls are denied educational opportunities from both their home and host country. Therefore, AWN’s workshops and classes serve as one of the few educational opportunities available to these girls once they graduate high school.
When I was asked if I could lead a workshop, I wasn’t sure that I had any skills to offer. Now, I realize that the girls are just eager to learn about anything-a few English vocabulary words here and there, answers to questions about America, etc. Rather than focus on English lessons which many of the other women at the center can teach, I figured that teaching some business skills might be useful since none of the 21 girls has ever taken a business class and it may interest some of them. Over the course of our classes, vocabulary words come up. When giving an example of bazaar-wallah (vendor) and the supplies he needs in order to manufacture shawls, the girls learned the words ‘needle and thread’, ‘cloth’, and ‘labor’. In the case of the crooked accountant, I explained to them the meaning of the word ‘fraud’, which they amusingly enough understood instantaneously. Some repeated the word a few times while others rushed to use it in a sentence. They all giggled at each other’s examples. The spirit and energy of these girls is incredible; they come to class eager and excited to learn. I really hope that one day all of them manage to get the education that they so desperately want and deserve.
Posted By Saba Haq
Posted Jun 21st, 2007