Afghanistan

Afghanistan: The nomadic Kuchis children get a head start on their lessons

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By Edward Carwardine, Communication Officer, UNICEF Afghanistan
NAMOKAB, PARWAN PROVINCE, 6 January 2003 - Each winter, a community of Kuchis, or nomadic farmers, return from their summer grazing grounds to spend three months wintering in the village of Namokab.

Namokab is perched on the side of the mountains in central Afghanistan's Parwan province, some 2,000 metres above sea level. It is home to about 300 households, with 140 primary school children all eager to start their lessons during the winter months. The only problem is the lack of stationery supplies and textbooks.

"People really do believe that with education there is a chance of a better future," says Abul Shakoor Rahimi, the district education officer for the neighbouring district of Shinwar. "There are children from the poorest families that I have seen who are top of their classes. They know that by studying, they will be able to improve their lives."

The chance of a better future for their children is clearly one of the driving forces behind the Kuchi communities' desire for decent schooling in their villages. But Rahimi admits that this is a recent development. Over the past two years, he spent a lot of time with the Kuchis explaining why education could open up doors for their children.

At first they did not see how sending children to school could be of any benefit to an ethnic group rooted in its nomadic, pastoral history. But community leaders slowly came around when they saw the range of subjects that could be taught and that quality materials would be provided. In Namokab, the villagers voted with their bare hands: they built their school themselves.

This is why local education officials decided to organize a donkey convoy to bring essential classroom materials to Namokab from the nearest town, Sherak, some 20 km to the south.

A donkey convoy was loaded with UNICEF Schools-in-a-Box, text books, chalkboards, school bags and recreational materials. The journey is a three-hour trek along a narrow path that may become impassable if the expected winter snowfalls materialize. So this is perhaps the last chance to get the supplies to Namokab and ensure that education takes place before the villagers prepare to move south again for the summer.

The convoy reaches Namokab with its precious cargo and two hours later, with the donkeys loaded with firewood for the return journey, it is set to leave the village and start the long trek back to Sherak. The village men come out to bid their farewells, but the children are nowhere to be seen.

"They are in the classrooms of course, with their new books," laughs one of the villagers, and as the group moves off up the path once more the sound of children reading aloud drifts through the chill December air.

Over 130,000 children returned to classrooms in Parwan province since the start of the school year in March 2002. Nearly one-third of the students are girls, who for years were denied access to education by Taliban edicts.

UNICEF supported the distribution of supplies for some 1.8 million primary school children in Afghanistan for start of school in March 2002. Supplies were prepared for an additional 1.3 million children for the winter term in the southern and eastern provinces. UNICEF, in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Education, will aim to meet the needs of a total of 4 million pupils in March 2003.