Thursday, 1 May 2008

1st May - Heading homewards...

A splendid morning meeting with 30 school consultants and teachers from all the Southern and Eastern schools I am not allowed to visit due to security. I know them well now and recognise the characters--the shy ones who summon all courage to speak; the flamboyant ones, the funny ones and the serious too. One small man who says little, asked to speak. He had written me a poem and read it out in Dari, translated for me by the education leader. It was very much from the heart and very touching and I will always keep it.

I was then presented with a traditional black velvet Afghan costume, heavily covered with gold embroidery, with baggy green trousers and green veil....with a wonderful note attached from all the teachers thanking me for my help and suggesting I am now an honorary Afghan. They insisted that I go and put it on ....

Well, what a struggle! It weighed a ton and was vast in volume of material but very rigid due to all the thick gold embroidery. After a few claustrophobic moments lost in a black tunnel of material I somehow managed to squeeze into it---though the trousers only made it to my knees... so I kept on my own!

As I returned to the room, It felt a little like walking down a corridor in a coffin! They were thrilled! And I had to continue my talk in full costume. That was the easy bit... having given out all the twin material from England and received and packed away all the fantastic gifts from the Afghan schools-not an easy feat when swathed in yards of velvet and gold - it was time to extricate myself from the gown and head to the airport. In the middle of the dress, searching for light and air and unable to get any help as certainly no women anywhere around, I finally broke the surface and breathed insome air, I couldn't help laughing at my near hopeless predicament!

And so I said my goodbyes to these people I have come to know and love so much and headed for the chaos of Kabul International and the gateway to home. It has,as always, been a totally inspiring and humbling visit and, as always too, I have received so much more than I can ever give.

30th April - Shar-i-khona and a shower!

We left soon after dawn for our journey back to Kabul. We planned a stop along the way in Old Baghlan-where Shar-i-khona school is located. Its is twinned to Downe House. I first visited in 2006 and found over 1000 girls studying outside on the ground beside the ruins of their old school which had been destroyed by the Taliban. On that visit, I had gone off to the bazaar and bought biscuits and sweets for the whole school and given them a party. I had also bought mats for all the classes as the girls were sitting on the hard ground. I had also told them that I would do my very best to build them a school......blind faith?

Marshall Wace Asset Management had held a Christmas Appeal that same year and raised enough money to build 8 classrooms. We had then received further funding for another big classroom block. As we drew up at the school, I looked at these 2 beautiful buildings and the girls in the new classrooms. A science class was in full swing in the lab where equipment had been provided by Downe House. Girls were doing an experiment and the burner was on, gases were bubbling and minds were buzzing. Twenty year 12 girls were working away. I asked how many of them wnted to be doctors and everyone raised their hand! And this was the same school which just 2 years before had been under the open skies. All the local schools have use of the facilities here, so the library, computers and science lab are being used by students all over the region, both boys and girls, it is benefitting thousands of students and teachers.

We went into a year 10 class and interviewed the girls.Not one of them has elecrtity or water in their homes, only 2 girls out of 30 have mothers who are literate. They all walk miles to get to the school because there are so few secondary schools for girls in the province. One girl walks 3 hours a day for her 4 hour school shift. She and 4 other girls have permission from their enlightened families to walk to school together - but all the other girls in their village have to stop school once primary education at the local school is finished. Their parents will not allow them to walk so far to school. These girls want to become teachers so they can go back and help the girls in their village to have an education...and so the slow roll of progress is set in motion.

They said that should they be allowed one wish, their wish would be to have peace in their country and to be allowed to continue with their studies.

It is a beautiful school. They have planted stunning scented roses and small trees in the garden and dug pits to protect citrus trees from the winter frosts. There is so much progress here in this very conservative area, progress against all odds....yet still the girls are not allowed to do sports - and over the wall, towering over the school is the minaret of the local mosque, keeping a reign on the wave of progress, refusing to allow it to unleash too fast.

The headmaster is a splendid character and sat recounting the tale of my first arival at the school when all the children were outside - a stranger arriving with sweets and biscuits and hopes of things to come. He plies us with delicious tea and plates of specially bought biscuits
I think this is a fitting end to our trip--this wonderful encounter of the science class for girls in a place once destroyed by Taliban trying to stop all future education for these very girls.

We say our goodbyes and go for a short walk into the rice market. It is like a scene from centuries ago. The donkeys are tethered around a square where hundreds of turbanned men swarm busily around sacks of rice, while vendors weigh the grains on vast copper scales. The buildings around the square are low slung wooden pillared bazaars. The crowds gather in, fascinated by us and our cameras. They are good natured and beg for their photos to be taken and there is masses of good hearted banter and laughter as they call us to their stalls to take their pictures. But them 2 tall turbanned Mullahs appear and a vendor whispers to us to stop filming. The crowd lose their spontaneous cheer and we quickly disappear back to the cars. This presence is so sinister and casts such a dark shadow on the natural joy of these people and their interaction with us.

And so we drive off and over the Salang and back to the smog of Kabul and to the first Western faces we have seen in days ..... and a delicious hot shower!


Sarah has managed to send some photographs for the posting below - they show Bradfield's Twin School Tot Mazar (Red football strips and shields ) and the Kunduz RAD children. ( Blue strip)We also see the girls fascinated by the picture on Sarah's laptop!