While it is a common metaphor for being safe, having ‘a roof over your head’ has been a genuine concern for villagers in Abdara Valley, which lies in the Panjashir Province in Afghanistan, a few hundred kilometers from the Pakistani border. The area has no running water or electricity, and no infrastructure to deal with rainfall and melted snow running down the mountains. Until recently, students at Abdara Girls’ School had no solid roof over their heads either, and as a result, the school remained closed during winter months as it is too cold, wet and dangerous in the classrooms for children.
With the support of Dubai Cares, Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian non-profit organization dedicated to the women and children of Afghanistan, identified Abdara Schools and their need for basic facilities to ensure a safer and more positive educational experience. As the only schools in the local community, they lacked clean water and security and as a result children were suffering from cold, damp conditions. In order to function in the most efficient and beneficial way possible, a five-month restoration program at the Abdara Girls’ School and its neighboring Abdara Boys School, was undertaken to ensure that students remain dry and safe in their classrooms, with no interruption to their daily learning schedule due to environmental concerns. For the first time in ten years, these students now have waterproof roofs over their heads at school.
Between April and August 2013, Dubai Cares funded and oversaw renovations across both schools. The girls’ school received a long-awaited roof made of iron metal sheeting to protect them from rainfall, in addition to the installation of a solar panel, the provision of 50 study chairs and desks and a 2000-litre water tank. The Abdara Boys’ School had a wall plastered and painted around the perimeter to ensure safety, the provision of 100 new study chairs and desks and the provision of a 5000-litre water tank that can be refilled by rain water if needed. Dubai Cares support enabled its implementing partner to ensure that this basic work could be completed. This included consultation with Department of Education and Parent Teacher Association, the formation of Construction Committee, selecting the contractor, recruiting volunteer labor from the community, in addition to all mechanics involved in constructing the roof and walls around the schools.
Saleh Mohammad, an Abdara Community Elder, said: “I have grandchildren in both schools. Now we have no worries about their education, my grandsons have the benefit of the surrounding wall and my granddaughter will be protected from rain and snow by the new roof throughout winter. The project also benefited the larger community through the creation of job opportunities. All the workers, including skilled and unskilled labor, were recruited from the local community and reaped the financial benefits of the project”.
The activity forms part of Dubai Cares’ strategy to ensure children attend school and also have a supportive learning environment to encourage them to remain in school. The UAE-based philanthropic organization works to tackle poverty through education in developing countries, and has reinforced its commitment to ensure that every child around the world receives quality primary education. Through its worldwide efforts, Dubai Cares is now reaching more than 10 million children in 35 developing countries, with the aim of arming future generations in the fight against poverty, instability, inequality and prejudice, through quality primary education.
Developmental Challenges in Afghanistan
Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs in Afghanistan have been virtually nonexistent in remote areas such as Badakhshan, Baghlan and Bamiyan. Some urban preschools were established during the Soviet era, but most of them closed after the civil war. The number of kindergartens or preschools in the country now serve no more than 1% of the population under six, and most of the programs available are still in urban areas with few trained staff or activities to promote the development of early learning.
Dubai Cares Programs in Afghanistan
In partnership with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), Dubai Cares aims to improve the overall development of young children in some of the most remote areas of Afghanistan and contribute to the development of an enhanced system of support for young children and their families. The program will ensure 60% of students are girls and improve their enrollment, retention and performance. Young high school girls will assist as teachers. The program will also offer mothers literacy classes linked to reading for their children. The program will further support the establishment of 45 new ECE centers and 72 existing ones in the districts of Bamyan and Baghlan.
In partnership with Mahboba’s Promise, Dubai Cares aims to increase access to primary education through the rehabilitation of 2 schools in the Panjshir Valley. Abdara Girls’ School was built in 2002 by Mahboba’s Promise and was the first school for girls in the Panjshir Valley. Mahboba’s Promise entered into partnership with the Government and continues to support the school. The organization provides additional teachers and transport for female teachers as well as aiding children in the valley who are not able to attend school due to economic hurdles. The school has 350 students in years 1-10, with 12 classrooms and 12 teachers.
Providing Access to Quality Primary Education
Dubai Cares’ efforts in Afghanistan reflect the theme of its current “What if …” Ramadan campaign for 2014, which will run throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan to spread awareness about the importance of education, as one of the most effective tools to break the cycle of poverty. Through this campaign, Dubai Cares will ask the UAE community to imagine their own children facing the same hurdles that children in developing countries do. What if your daughter was one of a hundred students crammed into a single classroom where her teacher doesn't know her name? The campaign also aims to raise funds for improving children’s access to quality primary education in developing countries.