Online education is an Afghan schoolgirl’s only hope, but it’s hard work

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Denied access to school because the Taliban did not reopen secondary schools for girls, an Afghan teenager has turned to the Internet to try to exercise her basic right to education. But her autonomous online learning mission has not been easy.

The morning that Rabia H. * saw his younger brother leave for his first day at school since the Taliban came to power was difficult for the Afghan teenager.

The school reopened a month after the Taliban took office on August 15, and the 15-year-old Kabul schoolgirl had already been through the most traumatic period of her youth.

Days after the US troop withdrawal on August 31, Rabia’s father fled to Pakistan. As a civil society activist for the persecuted Hazara ethnic minority, his father was in extreme danger under the Taliban. The family had waited “until the last minute” that they would be evacuated from Kabul airport before the US withdrawal deadline, Rabia explained in a telephone interview with Jowharfrom the Afghan capital.

But when that failed, his father was forced to cross the land border into Pakistan, leaving behind his wife and five children, as the journey was too dangerous for women and children.

Before leaving, her father, a committed advocate for women’s rights, took Rabia aside for one last heartbreaking talk. “He told me that I am the oldest, that I should help with my brothers and my sister, especially with my brother who is a year younger than me. He’s in fourth grade and he’s not good at his lessons. I have a great responsibility ”, he explained.

Rage had consistently led her class for as long as she could remember. Her grades were a source of immense pride for her father, who knew he did not have to worry about his eldest daughter’s academic motivation.

The Taliban, however, have a different view of Rabia and other female students from Afghanistan.

Before its inauguration, the hardline Islamist group spent years assuring US negotiators that the new era of “Taliban 2.0″ would not be a repeat of their disastrous reign of the 1990s. But when schools across Afghanistan reopened on September 18 after a closure due to Covid-19, secondary schools for girls remained closed, denying girls ages 13 to 18 education.

For Rabia, the school’s reopening on September 18 was bittersweet. “I was very happy for my brothers because they could go to school. They could meet their friends, teachers and classmates, and also, they could get an education, ”he said. “But when the Taliban reopened the schools for children, we became more desperate. Before that, we thought that when the schools reopened, they would reopen for boys and girls. ”

But falling into despair didn’t help, especially at such a difficult time for the family. Determined to continue her education, Rabia turned to the internet and launched a single online learning mission.

Exercising your fundamental right to education has not been easy. Self-education without basic infrastructure and school support has proven to be an uphill struggle for the adolescent, and it is giving her harsh life lessons.

‘Treat women like beasts’

Almost two months after they took power, the Taliban are on a public relations campaign to gain international recognition and humanitarian assistance, granting visas and interviews to foreign journalists while brutally cracking down on Afghan journalists, according to the UN.

On Tuesday, the Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint EU-US delegation in Doha, Qatar. Facing a humanitarian crisis in a country where the female workforce is trapped inside while many male relatives are clandestine or unpaid or negotiating migrant routes out of Afghanistan, the EU was forced this week to respond.

At a special virtual G20 summit on Tuesday, the EU promised a 1 billion euro ($ 1.2 billion) aid package for Afghanistan. EU chief Ursula von der Leyen stressed that the funds are intended to offer “direct support” to Afghans and will be channeled to international organizations and not to the interim Taliban government, which Brussels does not recognize. “Our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities are clear, including on human rights,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

We must do everything possible to avoid a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse in Afghanistan.

We need to do it fast.

Today at @ G20org, I will present an Afghan support package worth around € 1 billion.

– Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 12, 2021

Rabia is unequivocal about his position on the Taliban and wants his message to be heard. “Please don’t recognize them as a government,” he pleads. “The Taliban treat women like beasts. They want to forget Afghan women. They don’t allow us to live, go to school, they don’t even want to talk to women. If we protest, they chase us like animals, ”she said, referring to the fierce crackdown by the Taliban last month against women protesting the restrictions.

A Taliban soldier beats protesting women in Kabul on September 8, 2021 in this image taken from a social media video. via Reuters – Video obtained by Reuters

Daily routines determined by power outages

Since the Taliban came to power two months ago, Rabia’s life has been reduced to the walls of the family apartment. The internet is your only window to the outside world, but even that access is limited by daily power outages.

“In the mornings we have a little electricity, but in the afternoons there is no light. The afternoons are better: some nights we have light, others we don’t ”, he explained.

Your daily routine these days is determined by erratic electricity. She studies alone in the mornings, negotiating internet cuts. In the afternoons, when the power goes out, Rabia’s two teenage neighbors come home and the three girls help each other with their morning classes. Afternoons are for the Internet, when she can study with her brother and improve her English language skills.

The Internet resources, however, are mostly in English and not in Persian, their old language of instruction. The teenager, who would have been in the 10th grade this year, now has to manage educational sites in English without help. “It is very difficult, we do not have any teacher to help us. I am trying to find someone to help me. I asked people, some said they were busy and refused, others did not even respond, ”he explained.

Rabia’s family and friends are in various stages of shock, trauma, or transition, and it is difficult for them to help a teenager in need when everyone is struggling to cope.

Her father is struggling without money or work in Pakistan, and she doesn’t want to bother him. An uncle who worked for the Afghanistan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) is currently in hiding.

You have good reason to fear for your life. There have been increasing reports of atrocities against the predominantly Shiite Hazaras in recent weeks. In the Daikundi family’s home province, located in Afghanistan’s central Hazarajat region, for example, the Taliban carried out a “cold-blooded execution” of 13 Hazara, including 11 former ANDSF members, Amnesty International revealed last week. pass.

Days after the Taliban arrived in Kabul, a group of Taliban fighters arrived at Rabia’s family home and asked about her uncle. “My mother opened the door and told them that all the men had left, they are not here. Then two days later, I saw a car full of Taliban parked in front of our building. They are checking our apartment. They are everywhere in Kabul, it is very scary, they are even scary, ”said Rabia.

College dreams

Until the schools reopened, Rabia’s mother was the only one who left the apartment and went out to buy the basics, as the family survives on their meager savings.

Before the Taliban takeover, Rabia focused on a university education abroad. “I was planning to get a scholarship at a really trustworthy international university. I wanted to be a scientist and I really wanted to go to a good university where I could become the person I want to be, ”she said.

That dream was dashed when the Taliban seized power, but she is not willing to let it go. Once you’ve topped your class, you’re tenaciously preparing for the academic aptitude test (SAT) required to enter a US university.

You have no idea how or where you can take the exam, but you diligently follow the courses at Khan Academy, a free online education website run by an American NGO founded by celebrated American educator Salman (Sal) Khan.

“It’s cool, I love it,” Rabia said, her voice, for once, bursting with the emotion of a teenage girl. “It’s a playlist that I can follow and they have materials, videos for all levels.”

While Khan Academy now has multi-language platforms, Persian isn’t one of them, and Rabia admits it’s hard work.

“I asked some friends at the American University of Afghanistan for help,” he explained, referring to the country’s main university, which moved online after the Taliban took office. “But they were busy and refused to help. When that happened, I was really heartbroken. Every day I feel more alone. My father is gone. I miss him too much… I can’t describe my feelings, ”her voice trailed off, breaking with emotion.

But then the supernaturally mature 15-year-old recovered once more, as she has been doing for the past two months, declaring, “I tell myself that I must stand firm, for my father, my family and the women of Afghanistan. . If we don’t speak up, the Taliban will do whatever it takes and we can’t let that happen. ”

* Name changed to protect identity