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Japanese Government partners with UNICEF for ‘Thousand Classroom Project’ in Afghanistan

© UNICEF 2009/Walther
Sonia, 13, is enrolled in seventh grade at Soraya Girls’ High School in Kabul, Afghanistan.

By Cornelia Walther

KABUL, Afghanistan, 17 July 2009 - Sonia is one of the 2,800 students at the Soraya Girls’ High School located in the Karta-i-Char area of Kabul. Just 13 years old, she has already decided on a career.

“When I will be grown up, I will be a teacher,” said Sonia.

With support from UNICEF and the Government of Japan, she may be able to turn her goal into a reality. On 15 July, a delegation headed by the Director General of the International Cooperation Bureau at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Masato Kitera, visited the Soraya School to observe the first achievements of the ‘Thousand Classroom Project’. 

Through the project, which began in January, the Government of Japan has granted $24 million in aid to education in Kabul, which is currently facing a critical shortage of teaching and learning spaces. By its completion in December, the project will have reached 48 schools and benefitted over 80,000 children.

Shortage of safe school facilities
Soraya Girls’ High School’s 41 classrooms have to accommodate over 2,800 students and 98 teachers. By the end of the project, the school will have 61 classrooms, 24 rooms for administrative purposes, a wall with a metal fence and an improved playground.

UNICEF is pitching in to provide the school with recreation kits, sports equipment, and teaching and learning materials.

The ‘Thousand Classroom Project’ will also increase safe and child-friendly school facilities across the Afghan capital. Within the coming six months, 1,000 classrooms, 46 latrines and 14 water points will be built in targeted schools.

© UNICEF 2009/Walther
A joint delegation from UNICEF and the Japanese and Afghan Governments visits the Soraya School to observe the first achievements of the ‘Thousand Classroom Project’.

In addition, 40,000 classroom desks and chairs will be provided to accommodate the pupils; 40 new playgrounds will be constructed; and 3,000 teachers will be trained.

‘Strong partnership’
“This project will further expand the access to education for Afghan children,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue.

“The tremendous achievement of increasing enrolment rates from under 1 million pupils in 2001 to over 6 million this year has been possible due to strong partnership between the Government of Afghanistan and its national and international partners, including the Japanese Government and UNICEF,” she added.

“This is the result of the efforts and commitment of the government and also of thousands of teachers, including a significant number of female teachers, who are working tirelessly in more than 10,000 schools in the country,” noted Ms. Mbengue. “UNICEF, UNESCO and all partners are determined to support this gigantic effort to make universal access to education a reality.”

Education for all
UNICEF has been working with the Afghan Ministry of Education to meet this challenge. Their efforts to improve school infrastructure, enhance teachers’ capacities and motivate families to enrol their children – especially their daughters – are benefitting greatly from the Japanese Government’s support.

Japan has been a long-term supporter of UNICEF’s work in Afghanistan, notably in the areas of education and health. Since 2000, the Japanese contribution to UNICEF in Afghanistan has exceeded $115 million.

© UNICEF 2009/Walther
Students in front of Soraya Girls’ High School in Kabul.

“Japan has been setting a high priority on the education sector over the past seven years, supporting the efforts of the Afghan Government through UNICEF,” said Mr. Kitera of the Japanese foreign ministry. “I would like to express our deep appreciation for the work of UNICEF and the Ministry of Education in our joint efforts to increase enrolment rates in this country.

“My daughter is now at school, as these girls are, and I would like all of them to have an equal chance to access quality education,” he concluded.

Achieving education for all is still a way off for Afghanistan, where more than a third of rural school-age children – most of them girls – are not attending school. But the ‘Thousand Classroom Project’ is bringing the dream of universal education closer to reality, one classroom at a time.



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