Below are excerpts from essays that some of the ROYA-Kabul students wrote about their recent trip to the Children Museum of Science & Technology – the first and only Children’s Museum for Science & Technology in Afghanistan. A slideshow with additional photos appears at the end of the essays.
Amir: When all the students came to center, then we got on the bus. On the way, the driver played an English song and it was fantastic for me. When we arrived at the science museum, the teachers of science museum greeted us inside. Every group went to separate rooms and our group went to a room which there were something like how a baby is created in the mother’s stomach. Then some of the students from our group wore the doctor’s uniform and acted as a doctor. After wearing the doctor’s uniform, the teacher told them to perform a surgery operation of a plastic man which they did very well. After finishing the medicine section, we went to another room and there was a big projector on which something was written like: how the earth was came into being. And it was perfect for me and there were many parts.
Setara: We will always remember that one of our wonderful days was on January 15th when we went to museum. It was a beautiful day for every one of us. We experienced new things and we obtained information about astronomy, biology etc. We did some practical works, took pictures, and watched videos. So we learned everything. Before going to museum I thought that it’s an international place and it will be a boring place. But when I went there, it was different, a fantastic and enjoyable place.
Abdullah: On January 15th, at 12:00 o’clock in the afternoon we went to museum for sightseeing. The museum was small, but that was good. We did practical works and also we saw good video in the museum. After that we went to the science room and we performed practical works and that was really amazing for us. At the end, we took lots of photos and we enjoyed our trip to the museum. In museum we had teachers who explained scientific things for us. At 4:00 o’clock we left the museum.
Mahmooda: We went to museum last week and we met great people. They were very nice to guests and they spoke very well and the museum was a very beautiful place. I am sure that a lot of people will go to see it. I also learned about chemistry and ground and I had some questions from our teacher. They gave us some other information about earth. We watched a video about earth which was a very good information.
Zia: For the first time we went to science museum. Before that we hadn’t gone to any museum and this experience was unforgettable for us. It was far from our home and we went there by bus. Till then we hadn’t seen any science museum or any other kind of museum. We were surprised therefore. We were very happy. We were counting minutes for our arrival to the museum. We were imagining about how it would look like.
When the bus stopped, all of us said ‘wow!!’ It was very beautiful. There were three people inside who helped us. There were three rooms. The first room belonged to geology class and we went in it and a person gave information about geology. The second room was chemistry class. In this class there was another person who gave us information about atom. Then we were taught about how volcanic eruptions take place. The third room was about earth. They showed a film of the earth that showed how the earth came into being. So we have practical knowledge of geology and of chemistry from the seventh grade till tenth grade. They were very kind and we were happy because we learned many things. It was a new place for us and it was great.
Maryam: We went to the museum on Monday. It was very good for me and I was so happy and we went into the chemistry class. We knew about everything. We went to the museum on the bus and it was really good. We wore doctor’s uniforms and it was interesting for me. After that we watched a movie on a computer about the earth.
Faizullah: When we went to museum we went by bus. Then we arrived to museum. When we went in the museum, it was very fantastic and we enjoyed from that. At first we studied about biology. Then we wore doctor’s uniforms. After that we worked. Then Sir Shoaib took our photo. then we went to the chemistry section that was good. Then we went to physic subject that was great. Then we went to know about planets. Then we come to know about how the earth came into being. Museum was very good and we enjoyed.
Enjoy the following slideshow with other photos from our museum visit. We would like to thank photographers, Hussain Danesh and Sajjad Hussaini, for the photographs.
ROYA-Bamyan student, Fereshta Mehraeen, has been learning English through the support of sponsor, Yalda Royan, since the Fall of 2016. She and nineteen other ROYA-Bamyan female students attended a weeklong leadership conference in late December that was held at ROYA’s facility in Bamyan. Her essay follows:
YWLC is a conference which is provided in many provinces in Afghanistan. This conference has different parts that teach us the way of a leader and being a young woman leader in Afghanistan. The conference organizers, Gharsanay Amin and Sana Ahmadi, senior law students from the American University of Afghanistan, spent a week in Bamyan teaching me and other participants how to lead a group and the way of good leadership so that we can begin work in our country and develop into successful leaders in Afghanistan. They taught us to believe that we can improve our country in every way and be the best.
In the program, there were about 30 girls. Most of the girls were from the ROYA Mentorship Program, but some girls from other places and schools joined us. In the conference, we did different things. We had some local guest speakers who joined us in Bamyan and many speakers from around the world who talked to us via Skype. At the end of each guest speaker’s talk, they shared their email addresses, phone numbers and Facebook names so we can have a relationship with them and speak to them while developing our action plans or about other things. The speakers were also young leaders from around the world who taught us how to lead and important skills in leadership.
Gharsanay and Sana are always trying to do their best. Since they were also young women, the girls who participated are more motivated to become leaders. The goals of the program are to improve and inspire young women to have a good future for themselves and to believe that they have the ability to work as well as men in Afghanistan.
We had many group works, group activities, and personal activities about leadership. The trainers gave us very useful information about leadership. Sometimes we had fun and it was so interesting for everybody. It was fantastic for me. All the girls who participated in this conference were very motivated to come to the conference every day. We gained a lot of experience from this conference. The impact it had on me personally was that after this I will participate in programs like this everywhere. I can share my experience with others because of the confidence I gained from being a participant in this conference. Our trainers were very proud of us. Now I can speak in a crowded place and voice my opinion because I learned the skills from this conference.
One of the best points of this program is the action plans we were required to develop. We divided into groups of between four and ten girls and chose different action plans to implement in the future. The action plan that my group chose was to gather some small boys and girls in a specific place, maybe Mahbooba’s house, and teach them. We will help them in school subjects to help them be ready for studying in school when school begins again. Also we want to provide this to poor children so they can study without paying any money. In addition, weekly we will show them some cartoons and animations to make it fun for them. We will have a relationship with their family and parents to help them feel responsibility for their children’s studies and to pay attention. My team members were Mahbooba, Nazgul and Shegofa.
If we always have programs like this, many girls can participate, and we will be more social and more active. All of us had some favorite times together that we will never forget. One of those times was the last day of the program when we shared one good and one bad memory of our life with each other. It was nice.
All of us learned many lessons from this leadership program that will help us in the future. The lessons that I personally learned are that being a good public speaker will have the best effect on listeners. Now I can speak in a crowded place and in front of a lot of people and have a nice speech. Also, I learned how to listen to others nicely and to learn the key points from their speech. I can have relationship with the speakers we met and get help in my works and my action plan. I learned how to lead a group now and in the future.
Quotes from other ROYA participants:
Mahboba Hussaini – “I was feeling frustrated in the past, I thought I am a girl and the society does not need my contribution, someone else might be there to change the things! BUT now after YWLC I am very energetic and I consider myself the strongest person. I do understand that my country needs me and I should be a counter force against all the bad things and be a responsible citizen of my beloved country.”
Angela Samar – “I learned that I should not only think for myself or my family, but consider the broader picture and empower everyone around me, we women are the changing forces and have the potential to change the world”!
Ruqia Jafari – “I have big goals for the future, I was confused where to start from to achieve my goals in the past, YWLC was a push for me to take the step and I see myself near towards achieving my goals, I know where to start from, and how to get where do I want to end up! I am equipped with enough tools and confidence!”
Conference organizers were Gharsanay Amin and Sana Ahmadi, both senior law students from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). So far YWLC has provided leadership trainings to more than 300 girls in four different provinces and plans to extend the leadership trainings to all of Afghanistan. See their bios below:
YWLC had a series of activities regarding ethnic harmony, effective listening, effective communication, trust circle, decision making power, self -awareness, self-discovery, action plan implementation, community mapping, needs assessment, and leadership skills training. They also welcomed national and international speakers who are exemplary leaders in their communities. The participants were able to use their newly earned English skills with all of the foreign guest speakers and benefited from meeting many great new role models across the world and in their own communities. Here are the thirteen speakers who participated in the Bamyan program.
See a slideshow of images from the 2017 Bamyan-YWLC here:
The following interview was conducted by ROYA-Bamyan student, Simin Shayan, who is sponsored by Atika Hussain in Australia. Simin just completed 10th grade and has been studying English at Pioneer Educational Center since late summer 2016. The interview was originally published in Pioneer’s monthly newsletter. Simin performs at the top of her class, has excellent leadership qualities, and is determined to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor one day.
Dear Mrs. Kara Lozier, tell me about your career with youth in Afghanistan? From 2005-2012, I was a community coordinator for high school exchange students from around the world who spent a year in the U.S. living with host families and attending local public schools. In August 2007, I started working with Afghan students when four Afghan teenagers arrived at our local airport and became members of our community for one year. My family hosted Asad, a boy from Bamyan. In the past ten years, my work with Afghan youth has expanded and I began mentoring many students online. I founded ROYA – Resources of Young Afghans to make my work seem more official, but it was still really just me. In this time, I have helped many students with academic advising; writing support; personal coaching; applying for grants, scholarships and workshops; supporting their social activism; and more.
Why did you choose Bamyan first to start the ROYA Mentorship Program? Bamyan was the first part of Afghanistan that I learned about and I have had a special affection for it all these years. I learned over the years that Bamyan youth were at a disadvantage in competing for opportunities that required English language skills. Their English scores were typically much lower than the scores of their peers in larger cities. I wanted to help disadvantaged youth in Bamyan to have access to English classes to make them more competitive for opportunities for university studies and employment. The mentorship program matches sponsors from around the world with needy school students and covers the cost of their English classes and weekly internet access.
What do you enjoy most about ROYA? ROYA is more successful than anything I could have imagined. In general, the relationships that have been formed through the program are among my favorite things. I have met some of the most beautiful, kind and generous people in the world through this program. Our sponsors are fabulous. The local coordinators are extremely passionate and selfless. And getting to know the ROYA students has been a true blessing. It’s so heartwarming to watch them grow and see their skills improve. I have already witnessed a huge transformation in many of the students, including you. It’s like watching a whole field of flowers blossom. As the students acquire stronger English and computer skills, their confidence grows. They learn to advocate for themselves, like when you wrote me a letter and asked for opportunities to develop your leadership skills. The students become empowered and feel like they have more control over their futures. ROYA does not make students more talented… it just provides the sunlight and irrigation so that they can become their best selves.
The ROYA Mentorship Program is a dream for everyone to join now. What did you do to achieve these inspirational long-life goals? I feel like the only thing I did was to have the vision for this program. Bringing the vision to life is really to the credit of the local coordinators and the sponsors. It has been a global community effort, combining our efforts to make this dream a reality. Many people are eager to help Afghan youth, but did not have a mechanism to do so. People wanted a way to feel personally invested in the country and connected to a young person who needed a helping hand. With just a few Facebook posts, our appeal for sponsors reached people in Australia, Sweden, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, China, India and more countries. Most of these people were strangers to me. But now everybody feels like members of a large international family.
What is your message for students of ROYA and other school students, especially in Bamyan? Young people in Afghanistan, rich and poor, do not have the same opportunities as other young people in the world. There are so many challenges. Life is difficult. Although the security is better in Bamyan, the services and opportunities are fewer. Young people have to find a way to take ownership of their future. Take initiative. If you see a problem, do not wait for someone else to fix it. Find a way to fix it yourself. Believe in your power to change things. There are many things young people can do that does not require money or special skills… it just requires the will to achieve your goal.
What are your favorite memories from ROYA? The local coordinators in Kabul submitted a proposal to the World Bank Group Youth Summit 2016 on the theme of ‘Rethinking Education: Innovative Ideas to Transform Education’. They used the model of the ROYA Mentorship Program and competed with 875 other proposals from 103 countries. They were chosen among six finalists and traveled to Washington DC to present the ROYA model in front of a live audience, online viewers around the world, and a panel of expert judges. The other five finalists had very big projects, they were older, more educated, and had won other competitions with their initiatives. Some were already receiving financial support from Google, Microsoft and other international organizations. ROYA was really only a few months old at that point. I felt like we were babies compared to the competitors. I was not expecting the panel of expert judges to choose our program. So when the judges announced the winners, I was completely shocked when they said, “And the winner is…. ROYA!!!” I will never forget that single moment and the several weeks that led up to that moment.
ROYA local coordinators always admire you for your hard work for underprivileged kids, not only in Afghanistan but also in other countries. How can you manage all these responsibilities? When I am passionate about something, I seem to have an endless supply of energy. And the more busy I am, the more productive I become. I am also lucky because my regular job is done online and my schedule is flexible. So I can be available to communicate with the coordinators and sponsors at any time of day or night. It also allows me to travel and be away from home while still doing my regular job. For instance, I spent two months in Afghanistan helping students to apply for the Fulbright scholarship. I also ran a weeklong writing workshop for high school girls in a rural village of Uganda, and I spent ten months in Kyrgyzstan providing academic support to Afghan youth. I was only able to do those things because I had a job that allowed me to continue working and earning a small salary while I was away pursuing my dreams.
Apart from ROYA, what is your biggest dream in your life? My life has become so full and rich since starting ROYA. I have not had the time or need to dream of anything else.
What are you most proud of in your life so far? The ROYA Mentorship Program is, by far, the achievement that makes me feel most proud.
What advice do you have for ROYA and Pioneer students? When you feel depressed or defeated, help someone else. When you shift your focus to the pain and suffering of others, you feel stronger and more worthwhile and can overcome the feelings that bring you down. Our greatest gifts are the things we can give to other people. One of my favorite quotes is, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give it away.” By D. Viscott.
I am Ali Akbari, one of the ROYA students in Bamyan. When I was a kid, I was eager to study at school and develop more skills. I had lived in a district where educa-tional opportunities seemed impossible until my family moved to Bamyan in 2013. I was so pleased to experience a better life here which included the opportunity to attend school.
My father is a worker who digs wells. I was expected to work with him to earn our family’s daily income. Working as a child laborer was a nightmare for me. I often worked until 10 pm. This tiring schedule did not allow me time to study my lessons and do my homework well.
Besides working with my father, I also worked in a hotel. I had to wake up early in the morning and went to bed late at night. I made some friends while working in the hotel. When they realized I was curious about education, they advised me to abandon hotel work and start my regular lessons. I accepted their advice and quit that job to attend school full time. Science and English became my favorite subjects.
In the past, Bamyan did not have qualified English centers. But now it is a reality. ROYA, Pioneer English Center, Leeda Rahimi, and Ali Fakur, my sweet sponsors, have tried their best to inspire many students – especially underprivileged kids in Bamyan. There are a lot of students at ROYA and Pioneer and each of them has their own goal for a bright future. Some of them want to become lawyers, some doctors, some teachers, some presidents and so on. Their long-life goals inspire not only themselves, but also other students studying with them.
ROYA has brought a lot of changes in my life. I have been a position holder in almost every semester after joining ROYA. I learned a lot from ROYA. For instance, I learned how useful English can be in our daily lives. Without English, it is impossible to get a scholarship outside of our country. I also learned how to help needy people and how to inspire uneducated people. I learned how to motivate students and how to manage all the responsibilities we have in our lives.
ROYA has done incredible work so far. It has three branches in Afghanistan – in Bamyan, Kabul and Ghor. When ROYA started its work in Bamyan, it seemed impossible that it would succeed with only twelve students. But in a short amount of time, the number of students has increased not only in Bamyan, but also in Kabul and Ghor.
ROYA is like a family. All the kids in ROYA care about each other and value our friendships. We are happy when they see each other around town. We discuss our studies and class issues. When students are absent or forget to communicate with their mentors, they remember Kara and all her hard work on their behalf and feel guilty and try to be better. I want to become a person in the future who can help uneducated and poor kids in Afghanistan. I wish there were more organizations like ROYA.
** Note: Republished from the first monthly newspaper of Pioneer Educational and Cultural Organization.
From Selling Fruit on Streets to Founding an English Language Institute
A Message by Asif Sultani, Founder and Chairman of Pioneer
(Republished from the first issue of Pioneer’s monthly newspaper)
As the Chairman and Founder of Pioneer Educational & Cultural Organization and Co-Founder and the local Coordinator of ROYA Organization in Bamyan, I am extremely honored to introduce you to the first Monthly in English for English readers in Bamyan.
First, I would really like to thank Mrs. Kara Lozier and all of Pioneer’s dedicated team who have been trying to provide a better environment for school and university students, governmental staff and every individual who passes through Pioneer’s door in their quest to learn the English language. Thank you for your guidance, friendship, and even, for your discipline.
In 2007, I worked as a dishwasher with an NGO in Kabul. Washing the dishes made me so tired. The Afghan people who worked with the NGO knew English. It was my dream to study English and work the same as they did. My parents lived in Jaghori, Ghazni. They were not able to support me financially to study. Over time, I grew to detest washing dishes and finally decided to leave Afghanistan and travel to Pakistan. When I consulted with my family, they were against my idea. But I did not let them talk me out of my plan.
So, I left Afghanistan in 2008 and traveled to Pakistan where I hoped to have better educational opportunities. In Pakistan I sold fruit to support myself financially. I would wake at 3 am and go to the market to get fresh fruit. I did not know Urdu. There were a few other Afghan workmen who would go to market, too. They knew Urdu well and they helped me with my purchases.
Each day I would return from the market around 8 am and start selling the fruit. I took time out during the day to attend several English and computer classes which meant I was still selling fruit into the night. It was a very tiring schedule, but I continued it for almost two and half years. When my English and computer skills were strong enough to use in my employment, I came back to Afghanistan to fulfill my dream of working with an NGO. As soon as I returned, there was a supervisor vacancy with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Pol-e Charkhi, Kabul. Because of my English skills, I was hired and worked there almost a year and a half. When the security situation got worse at ISAF, I resigned and took a job somewhere else. Finally, I chose Bamyan as a place I would like to live and moved here in 2013.
Since arriving in Bamyan, I have been an active member of Bamyan society and have sought opportunities to better the lives of people in the community. In 2014, I was hired as an English capacity building coordinator for the German INGO, HELP. While working for this organization, I identified the need for an English language center and founded Pioneer Educational and Cultural Organization. Pioneer’s main objective is to provide a place where Afghans in Bamyan can learn all aspects of the English language. English may not be the most spoken language in the world, but it is the official language in many countries. It is estimated that the number of people in the world that use English to communicate on a regular basis is 2 billion – which makes it a very useful and valuable language to learn. In 2016, I began collaborating with the ROYA Mentorship Program which has been our greatest initiative. The concept was simple. Founder, Kara Lozier, and I worked together to select ten needy, motivated students in Bamyan who were willing to commit to two and a half years of private English classes and match them with ten individual sponsors who would pay $10 per month – the cost of tuition, books and weekly internet access.
Before joining with the ROYA Mentorship Program, I thought it would be impossible to help needy people because I knew first hand, what it was like to want an education, but not have the time or resources to study. When I understood the concept of ROYA, it seemed more possible, however, I was skeptical that enough sponsors would volunteer to help. But, there were more than enough so I was able to begin helping the students learn English. Helping these students has made my life more meaningful. I have learned how to approach helping uneducated and underprivileged people. Pioneer is proud of becoming a partner with ROYA. It would have been impossible to make Pioneer brighter without ROYA’s support. ROYA changed my life and path and has done the same for our students. The students were hesitant at first and felt discouraged when learning English was harder than they expected, but they kept working and have made steady progress. Their attitudes have changed and now they are excited about becoming better at English. This has made me more hopeful about their futures.
The following slightly edited piece was written by 16-year-old Sabira, a ROYA student in Bamyan who started her English classes eleven months ago. Sabira is the oldest of five children and her father is a day laborer. When Sabira joined ROYA, she could not even write her name in English. Now she is writing nearly perfect topic pieces about a wide variety of subjects. Last week’s topic was the importance of hard work. Sabira wrote about her father. The original handwritten piece is pictured at the end.
The person I admire most in my life is my lovely father. My father is very loving and strong. I always learn from his life and his experiences. He tells me about all of his struggles in life and his success. He helps me get out of bed every morning and helps me getting prepared for school at night time. He never scolds me and deals with all my mistakes very easily and makes me learn from my mistakes politely.
I still remember all my childhood memories with my father. He is the real reason of my happiness and joy. What I am is because of him. He never thinks twice about helping needy people and always asks whenever anyone becomes sad and helps to solves his/her problems. He is a very active person. He is really a good dad not because he helps me but because of his knowledge, strength, helpful nature and, most importantly, his way of handling people.
Samar Qand is one of our newest students from our program in Ghor Province. Since the students in Ghor do not have internet access, they will communicate with their sponsors with handwritten letters that are copied and emailed to sponsors. Samar Qand is in the 10th grade and her English is very impressive. Her words are an inspiration to all.
In August 2017, five ROYA students from Kabul and four ROYA students from Bamyan attended the second Afghan Girls Leadership Program. Freshta Ahmadi, one of our first ROYA students from Bamyan, returned this year and served as a group leader. The following article was written by ROYA student and participant, Mahbooba Mohammadi. Read about the program attended by ROYA students Freshta Ahmadi, Mahbooba Mohammadi, Zahra Ahmadi, Hakima Amiri, Zahra Rezaee, Setara Qasemi, Farzana Samar, Ruqia Jafari, and Freshta Mehraeen.
From August 12th to 22nd, I attended the Afghan Girls Leadership Program (AGLP) in Kabul. AGLP is a program for girls who want to be leaders or role models for other women and girls and encourages participants to be the person they really want to be. This program was established by Basira Daqiq who is studying and working abroad. I admire her because she is still trying to help the girls of her country. Assisting her were Arifa Rezai, Meherbanoo Mirzayee, Yalda Yaqubi and Freshta Ahmadi. The program’s goals are to train girls to be more talented, strong and good leaders, and to help produce and support future, young, Afghan women leaders.
The 2017 Afghan Girls Leadership Program was a very beneficial and educational program which encouraged and trained girls to be good leaders. There were many different components in the program which gave us many benefits and helped us improve ourselves.
On the first day, we had to think about the different problems in our society and find solutions for them. In some of the days, we had to develop action plans for these problems as a community service project. One of our community service projects was to help and encourage children in the Women for Afghan Women’s Children’s Support Centers. In addition, we had Skype video calls with educated people from different countries and visits from special guest speakers, which were very helpful for the participants to learn from them.
Aside from these activities, we learned many things about technology and created some new electric things. Because of these, I am very happy that I could take part and get lots of experiences, and also learned many good things from my dear leaders, those who really helped me. Now I am really changed. I became more and more sociable. This program inspired me to search for people to find their problems and help to solve those problems for them.
This was the most beneficial program for all of the participants. We all were facing new things, and having new experiences which were so helpful for us, especially for me. I learned how I should act when I am facing problems and how to interact with people. In conclusion, I want to say, I am thankful to the kind and respectful leaders of AGLP.
The following article was written by peace activist, Nematullah Ahangosh, who was also a leader and organizer of this innovative summer program. Nematullah teaches English for children in IDP camps through the Jesuit Refugee Service and has overcome his own experiences of poverty and child labor to now give back to others.
Two ROYA students, Faizullah and Abdullah, were participants in the Rainbow Summer Program, recently held in Kabul. Faizullah is quoted in the article. Promoting ethnic harmony, tolerance, and national unity is among many of the goals of the ROYA Mentorship Program. We appreciate Nematullah and his peers for organizing and leading a much-needed program for Afghan youth.
Rainbow Summer Program launched in Kabul
The very first cultural diversity summer program in Afghanistan was held for high school students in Kabul. Organized and run by young Afghan volunteers, the mission of the Rainbow Summer Program is to nurture cultural diversity and the tolerance of diversity through authentic projects including dialogue and conversation. It is designed for high school students to give them the opportunity to get to know, discuss and explore their ideas on the topic of cultural diversity.
After decades of war in Afghanistan, dozens of Afghan youth and high school students gathered to create and experience a diverse and multi-cultural Afghanistan. During the five days of the unique summer program, participants were able to discover and explore their ethnic cultures and sub-cultures through dialogues, group work, conversation and immersive games. It was a very rewarding gathering for all participants and leaders.
Thirty students were selected to attend this program. Students shared their culture through wearing different clothes, sharing a great variety of foods, singing folk songs, dancing and music. “To look back at the history of Afghanistan, there is no history of such a summer camp before,” said Alisina, one of the organizers of the Rainbow Summer Program.
During the program, students discussed different topics considered positive points in Afghan culture including: marriage between ethnic groups; the impact of social media; and the impact of education. Meanwhile, they discussed how war and conflict has caused children of one ethnic group to attend schools which are exclusive to their own ethnicity and they are unwilling to attend other schools.
“I learned two salient things from this camp. Knowing about Afghanistan’s different cultures and being motivated to improve the level of my education,” said Faizullah, one of the participants. He feels that it is an egregious failure for those who don’t know each other, especially each other’s cultures. He also said, “I was very lucky to attend Rainbow because I didn’t know about the wide diversity of cultures that we have in Afghanistan. I thought very negatively about our other cultures. Now I know I need to improve my knowledge about, for example, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and Pashtun cultures. Hopefully, as a result of this Rainbow Summer Program more Afghans will learn about the richness of our cultures.”
The Rainbow Summer Program is not a part of the education system in Afghanistan, but the participants would like to make the program sustainable. During the program, the students asked us many times if we could repeat the program next year because they had never had the opportunity to be educated in such a fun and well-informed manner in their own schools. This program helped them to learn a myriad of lessons.
Manizhe is in ninth grade and also studies English in an IDP camp with other children. She and her family returned to Afghanistan from Iran two years ago. She said, “Afghans like me are not treated well in Iran. Iranians often said that Afghans are bad people, but now I know that it was a false idea because in this program I met amazing people who belong to different regions, diverse religions and cultural backgrounds and I learned about my own culture.”
The program succeeded to enrich participants’ understanding of cultural diversity, promoted tolerance and a pluralistic approach towards various cultures, and provided a more scientific view of the diverse cultures in Afghanistan.
Last but not least, the inspired participants of this summer program were motivated to join peace movements in Kabul. Almost all of the camp’s participants joined the Afghan Peace Volunteers to contribute to peace-building and to continue educational work in building harmonious multi-cultural communities in Afghanistan. They will be part of creating a green, equal and nonviolent Afghanistan through many peace movements and peace projects together with the Afghan Peace Volunteers.
Jafar, 12, used to spend his childhood in traffic jams around Kabul. He began working at the age of eight as an espandi, waving a tin of smoky coal made from espand over cars to ward off evil spirits. But this year, he has been given a second chance for his childhood, the chance to study in a private school where he dreams of being an engineer in future.
Samana, 12, was confined to home, where she had begun working at age seven as a carpet weaver, with no vision of a bright future. But now, her eyes envision a far different future as she studies in a private school.
For the parents of Jafar and Samana, as for thousands of others in Kabul, relying on the labor and earnings of their children was a way to cope with poverty. Jafar was born and spent his early childhood in the countryside of Bamyan where he was a shepherd. His family moved to Kabul after the death of his father, aiming to escape poverty. To the contrary, he was forced to join many other child laborers in the streets as his step-father continually rejected his request to study. “I can only feed the family. Isn’t it enough? Do you want me to put you in school also?” said his step-father.
Unlike many of their peers who work in the streets and in their homes, Jafar and Samana both have been given a chance to study at Pegah Private High School. In a well-decorated classroom, Jafar and Samana study first grade, learning how to read and write.
ROYA – Resources of Young Afghans is a small NGO that pays their tuition along with fourteen other former child laborers who study at the school. In addition, ROYA covers the fees for English and computer classes for about 80 other needy students in Kabul and Bamyan, says Shoaib Mehryar, the volunteer coordinator for ROYA in Kabul. Recently, they added 70 needy students in Ghor Province and will cover their expenses to study at the only private high school in the province, Rahnaward-e-Noor High School.
Shoaib’s compassion for these kids has made him invest his time and energy in ROYA, aiming to change their lives of toil. Shoaib describes his commitment to the program saying, “Seeing the smiles on the faces of these kids means the world to me.” Shoaib volunteered to work with ROYA when Kara Lozier, founder of ROYA, started the small project last summer. ROYA identifies and screens under-privileged children, profiling them on social media and their website to make it possible for donors to select the children they wish to sponsor. The monthly sponsorship payment covers the cost of their English classes or private school fees and expenses.
The small project serves a growing number of children hawking in Kabul’s streets. In the many so-called “pockets of poverty” in Kabul, children are the main source of income for their families. Although they may protect their families from starvation, the trauma and deprivation that children face by working in the streets is ignored.
Jafar began to work in the streets with boys in his neighborhood in 2014. Every day, he earned about 100 Afghani ($1.50 US). In the beginning, he wasn’t even able to pay the money to his family, because on his way to home, he was beaten and all his money was stolen by his peers. Jafar was also harassed by ordinary passersby and drivers.
Jamil, 17, was too small to remember his age when he started to work as a carpet weaver. His father was too old to work and disabled from the war and his sick mother needed money to buy medicine. “I was addicted to work,” Jamil painfully remembers. “I didn’t know what I was doing.” Later, he was forced to work at a carpet weaving factory. “Nothing was more painful than seeing my sick mother and my smaller siblings starving.”
He had no idea how to deal with the situation. “I wanted to fade away, vanish and escape from my family,” Jamil recalled. “I was too weak to overcome the situation.” The pain pulled him toward drugs which he tried two times. As he was weighing his options, he was encouraged by a friend to become a drug dealer. He explained, “One day, one of my friends came to me and asked me to be a drug dealer. I followed him for a few meters because he promised to fulfill my dream to study at a private school.”
Instead, ROYA made it possible for Jamil’s dream to come true. Jamil studies in 4th grade at Pegah Private High School with the support of ROYA’s sponsorship program. So far ROYA has successfully re-routed the lives of many child laborers like Jafar, Samana, and Jamil whose lives held no promise of a bright future. Now Jamil dreams of being a psychologist in the future.
 An espandi is someone who sells the smoke from the herb espand to ward off evil spirits.
Note: A version of this article was originally published on 13 August, 2017 in the Afghanistan Times