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For returned refugees in eastern Afghanistan, a community school make a difference

Support from UNICEF and Government of Japan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2007/Tuladhar
UNICEF Representative to Afghanistan Peter Crowley (at microphone) during the inauguration of Nala Bidak school in Sukhroad district, Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan.

By Terumi Yamazaki

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, 16 November, 2010 – Until a few years ago, Nadak Bilak, a small village on a dusty plateau in eastern Afghanistan, had no access to safe water and little in the way of infrastructure. Twenty-eight former refugee families who had returned from Pakistan were settled here by the government, living in nothing more than mud houses.

Today, this small settlement a few kilometres from Jalalabad is witnessing signs of a new beginning.

"There was nothing when we settled here – no clean water, no school,” said local chief Hajji Abdul Ghafar. He added that his first move upon settling was to visit the Provincial Education Department and request that a school be opened in the community.

“I felt it is our responsibility as community leaders to ensure our children have access to education. Our generation has suffered enough by lack of education, and we shouldn’t put our children in the same situation,” said Mr. Ghafar.

Official status

With support from the Government of Japan, UNICEF constructed a community-based school in Nadak Bilak – the first in Surkhroad district – in 2007. It was inaugurated by the local authorities and UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Peter Cowley. Before the construction of the school, the village children had their classes outside.

The school was established with small incentives raised by the village families to pay teachers. Today, it is the only permanent structure in the settlement, with latrines and handwashing facilities, eight classrooms and four administrative rooms. It has also been promoted to the status of an official school.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2010/Ayari
Students at the Nala Bidak community-based school in eastern Afghanistan watch a child-rights puppet show performed by the Parwaz Theatre.

While inaugurating the Nadak Bilak facility, which was built cost-effectively for about $86,000, Mr. Cowley said he was impressed by the number of girls enrolled but hoped the number would grow. “Next time, I would like to see all the girls and boys of this village in the school,” he said.

Refugees encouraged

The establishment of the community-based school had a significant impact in the region. Word of the school spread in the refugee community in neighbouring Pakistan, encouraging other families to return to Afghanistan. Initially there were just 30 children in the school; now it has 124 girls and 126 boys enrolled.

“The construction of the school is just the beginning. The School Management Committee will further develop the school environment to ensure safe learning space and quality education for our children,” said the chief, Mr. Ghafar.

After the speeches, children were entertained with the Child Rights Puppet Show at the inauguration ceremony. UNICEF and the Afghan Parwaz Puppet Theatre developed a 30-minute play aimed at spreading messages on child rights, making it a day to remember for the students.



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