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Local Perspectives: Children on Education

Helmand is still one of the most difficult operating environments in Afghanistan. Despite the security challenges, local entrepreneurs in the country’s largest province display a remarkable sense of resilience, helped by the PDM-Helmand project, which is accredited with having facilitated almost $150 million in contracts awarded to Helmandi companies by international buyers, thereby creating thousands of local jobs. Now, meet entrepreneurs who are building the Helmandi marketplace!

These stories were written by Nooruddin Bakhshi. He is an Afghan journalist who has worked for many years with The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Times. He has also worked on several NGO communication projects. He is based in Kabul.

Ramazan

Ramazan, 11, wakes early in Lashkar Gah, performs ablutions and morning prayers before enjoying a breakfast of sugary tea with bread, jam and cream. Meanwhile, on the other side of the province’s capital, Ghawaz Mohammad Khan, also 11, tucks into some old bread and tea. Sometimes, finances permitting, he is able to add some sugar. After breakfast, Ramazan will do a little bit of studying before walking to school. Ghawaz, too, will be hitting the streets, although schooling will play no part in his daily grind. “Go out and earn some money,” his blind father tells him. “Go and earn 50 afs ($1) for this family,” he adds, in reference to their mother and his six siblings.

Ghawaz is a spandi. He carries a blackened tin with makeshift handles from which an aromatic smoke drifts from a burning herb called spand. Ghawaz plies the streets of Lashkar Gah looking for handouts from pedestrians. “I bless you, I bless you, give me five afghanis (10c),” he touts to anyone he sees. In Afghan folklore, the smoke is said to ward off evil thoughts. Some give, some don’t, and on a good day, Ghawaz says, he will earn 50-60afs ($1). He admits that he’d rather be at school, optimistically expressing a wish to become a doctor.

Ghawaz

Ramazan says he knows he is lucky to have such a supportive family for his education and wishes the parents of boys like Ghawaz were like-minded. “My message to them is to let their children go to school  so they can be somebody in the future,” Ramazan says. According to the World DataBank, in 2010, only 46% of Afghan children were enrolled in secondary school.

Ramazan is busy studying in the fifth class at Martyr Mohammad Anwar Khan High School. Six days a week, for four hours each day, he attends overflowing classes at the school. The classrooms are full, with makeshift classrooms for younger children held outside, while older students take up seats at desks set up amongst the playground. Ramazan studies Afghanistan’s two official languages, Pashtu and Dari, as well as English, social studies, math, and art. “I want to study to become an engineer to help my country,” he says. It’s a view that is echoed by his father, who despite the family’s limited wealth, is keen for his seven children to become educated. When school finishes at noon, Ramazan’s day is by no means over. He fills the two hour gap between school and his six-day-a-week English classes at a private school by hitting his textbooks.

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