In 2002, when Mutiullah Wesa was a teenager, the Taliban set his school on fire. It was this event that prompted him to dedicate his life to ensuring education for other children in Afghanistan.
Wesa is a co-founder of PenPath, a non-governmental organization that promotes the reopening of closed schools in rural areas of the country (from Kandahar’s Spin Boldak district to Helmand province) and has so far educated more than 57,000 children. Today PenPath has 2,400 volunteers, including 6 women, secretly teaching girls of high school age. Despite multiple assurances from the Taliban in international forums, teenage girls are still banned from entering classrooms in Afghanistan nine months after the group took control of Kabul.
Since then, schools have reopened for boys and girls up to the age of 11. But in many rural areas, children are still deprived of education. Safety concerns and a poor economy make parents reluctant or unable to send them to class…if there is a school nearby. “There are villages in Afghanistan with a population of more than 1,500 people, but there is not a single school,” explains Wissa.
Many PenPath classes are taught in children’s homes, with volunteers playing pre-recorded lessons. In towns with internet access, volunteers provide online lessons to groups of girls and boys. We have integrated the Afghan curriculum from Grade 1 to Grade 12 and are educating children in rural areas. If they can’t go to school, we bring them to school, sometimes behind closed doors,” Wesa says.
“Even if the Taliban threaten us, we will not give up the fight for education…Education is our human right.”
In addition to banning the education of teenage girls, the Taliban also banned women from working. This means that teachers across the country have lost their jobs. Some parents are reluctant to send their daughters to school with male teachers – either because they fear the repercussions of the Taliban or because of their conservative values. That’s why PenPath members go from house to house to persuade devotees, parents and tribal leaders in rural Afghanistan to encourage girls’ education.
“We are facing two challenges, the first is that the Taliban has banned girls’ education from grades seven through twelve and the second is that parents are not encouraging parents to send girls to our schools due to the lack of teachers. Toilets and a safe campus. It is a big problem,” says Wissa.
Most of the NGO’s funding comes from the founders’ pockets, although some are also donated by people from all over the world, from the Afghan diaspora and local elders. Wissa and the other volunteers work without pay, unless the Good Samaritan gives them money for their salary.
Students, their parents and tribal leaders come to us to thank us for providing education to their villages. “They are happy and want to know more,” Wissa says. “Our teachers have received a lot of encouragement from the girls. It encourages us to do more.” Some PenPath teachers say they are not worried or afraid because they believe in the right to education.
One of the volunteers says: “I believe it is my responsibility to educate those who need education, especially the children here who are the builders of the future in Afghanistan. I will continue to fight for my cause with determination. We will try to provide education for every Afghan girl. At the same time, we ask the international community to It provides them with opportunities, in the form of scholarships or help in building schools. We should not be afraid of anyone […]† We will fight for girls’ education until our last breath.”
Another female volunteer joined her, adding, “I started volunteering because my country, Afghanistan, is in a very bad situation. We are fighting for our country and there are people here who will not stop fighting for this right.” [op onderwijs]† I am sad but not afraid, for I am fighting for a fundamental right of all people. It’s not new that there are people against educating girls, so I’m not really afraid of it. I’m not disappointed.”
With the Taliban increasingly restricting women moving without male relatives, PenPath volunteers travel in gender-segregated groups.
When our teachers arrive at a student’s pre-arranged home, other girls from the village gather there to teach behind closed doors. “Our male teachers do the same when they teach boys,” explains Wesa. Volunteers work in two shifts – one in the morning starting at 7 am and one in the afternoon starting at 3 pm. Every day, more than 1,000 students are taught in different districts in Kandahar, Helmand and Kabul.
PenPath has also launched Mobile Libraries that have collected and distributed more than 360,000 books to the children of Afghanistan since 2013. The NGO hopes to increase the number of online classes, underground schools and mobile libraries in the coming months.
Wesa first started reopening schools during the former Taliban regime in the 1990s, and he admits it’s “more difficult” now, but says he won’t give up. Asked about the potential risks if the Taliban discovered that his organization was educating girls, Wesa said, “We chose to fight for girls’ right to education in a non-violent manner and even if there was a threat or they said I was sent to prison, I would not stop our educational activities.” He adds: “We are looking for ways to ensure that [kinderen] They are not deprived of the only thing that can save this country from starvation and that is education.”
This article previously appeared on Opendemocracy.