Kabul one year on. A fortress city with more fortifications.
I am here with two teachers, Jane, an English teacher from The Sholing Technology College, Southampton and Gareth, a History teacher from Eton, who are here to give teacher training, and with Ollie, who will be making a film for us.
After a security briefing from SCA (always enough to make one want to turn back and run home) we set out for Said Daoud Khan Girls School where we were running one of our girls cricket coaching camps. Miles Amoore, Sunday Times Correspondent, (who came to Afghanistan with me years back when he was on the Newbury weekly news desk) joined us fresh from Libya where he had been reporting, escorted by Gadaffi’s henchmen.
50 girls from 5 different ethnic groups, had come together from 5 schools across Kabul for a 2 day camp. Dressed in whites emblazoned with the Spirit of Cricket, Afghan Connection and AYCSO, they received coaching from 3 female and one male coach -all siblings from a wonderful cricketing family. The female coaches play for the Afghanistan Women’s Cricket Team.
Most girls were playing cricket for the first time, but a few had played before and one or two were magnificent and have been spotted for the Afghan team. One had been taught by her 3 brothers in the refugee camps of Pakistan. Judging by the strength the ball that whacked me off her bat, they taught her well! Another, called Diana, comes from a cricketing family too and all her siblings and both her parents play. A beautiful girl with green eyes and henna in her hair told me how she had her parents’ blessing to be at the camp but all her aunts and uncles were very against it and had criticised the family. She loves cricket and says she is very very angry that girls have so few opportunities and that “uneducated” people across Afghanistan make life so hard and restricted for women. Some spoke excellent English and loved talking to us about everything from cricket to hair dyes, their passion for romantic novels including Romeo and Juliet and their determination to have careers as engineers and doctors. They begged us to come back again and do another camp for them.
When people ask me, as they often do, why I continue to work in Afghanistan when there is such poor security and such a huge cloud lying over the future, I wish they could meet these girls. It is when I see them and listen to them and witness their determination and indomitable spirit despite all that they are up against, that I know that we cannot give up. Jane told me how her Nicaraguan daughter in law had told her that the one thing that gave her hope as a child during the worst years of civil war, were the teachers who came to Nicaragua and risked their lives to bring them education. It allowed her to become literate and made her feel that people outside of her country cared about her and she has never forgotten.
I think of the letter I received from a girl in Bibi Ayisha Girls School in remote Northern Afghanistan, saying that the best day of her life was the day I visited her school, which had no classrooms. Now she studies in a brand new school with 1100 other girls. She has hope. And as I look at Kabul one year on, with a cold drizzle falling from skies which hum with helicopters and sirens and feel slight despair at the lack of progress and the uneasy atmosphere of fear, I will keep those girls in the forefront of my mind and not give up!