Wednesday, 15 October 2014

13th October – Onwards to Rustaq

It felt so good to have a hot shower in Taloqan in the SCA guest house.  We were filthy after our trip and the dust and glitter has nested in our hair. Always makes me feel how harsh the lives of those people are when I come away from Worsaj and back to the haven of the guest house.

We set off early for Rustaq. We have a new guide for the day as Mukhtar is busy with a foreign diplomat who is visiting Kishem. She has armed guards and bullet proof cars and a bullet proof vest on and it is her first visit out of Kabul since arriving some months back. We are so lucky to have the freedom to travel and to experience parts of the country as we do. 

The Call to Prayer had woken us at 4.30am and had been followed by a very loud sermon type session from the Mullah. Our guide was telling us what it all was about - how people should behave as good Muslims. The Muezzin is the person who climbs the minaret to do the call to prayer which is called Adhan in Arabic. In the Mujaheddin times and Taliban times, people would come knocking on doors to get people out of bed and to the mosque to pray. From 2001 this stopped happening and less and less young people get out of bed for Morning Prayer at 4.30. He said it is often just the old people who cannot sleep! He feels that life has changed very much. He has 4 televisions in his house and travels abroad once a year with his wife. He describes transport changes in a city where everyone used to walk and now they all wait for a car or bus or Rickshaws to take them places. He tells us how Ashraf Ghani is cleaning up corruption at the Palace. Apparently Karzai had 50 advisors, all earning $100,000. Ghani told them that teachers earn just 7,000 and said he would pay them $12,000 a year to stay on and advise him or they were welcome to go. He also got rid of 43 of the 50 cooks employed there. These are the changes the people need to see and our guide was feeling very encouraged by it.
Rustaq is a district which borders Taloqan. It has a population of about 350,000 and its economy is largely based on agriculture. There is an ethnic mix of roughly 75% Tajik and 25% Uzbek. There are 196 villages here and only 93 of them have a school. There are just 45,000 children attending school and 18,000 of them are girls. Thousands of children do not have access to education and this is often due to the remoteness of their villages as well as conservative ideas on girls’ education. This will be our challenge as we replicate our Worsaj Education project here. The security is stable but we will never find it as easy as Worsaj where we have such strong ties going back over many years.

The landscape is of hills rather than mountains and everything is arid, dusty, brown. Even the river is a mud brown in contrast to the turquoise waters of Worsaj. As we drive along we see the corpses of villages which were burned down by the Taliban.

We visit 5 schools and the first 3 are near or in Rustaq City. It is market day and thousands of people have descended on the centre. The roads and fields around have become donkey parking areas - rows and rows of them standing with nose bags on and brightly coloured saddles. A game of Buzkashi is taking place... like polo only using a goat's body rather than a ball! The market place is crammed with people.

We visit teacher training which is taking place for 25 young teachers from government primary schools, and is funded by AC. Then we head off out to the countryside. Our first stop is a very poor village. There is no education here and we interview a young boy of 12 called Rafiullah.

He cannot go to school as the nearest school is 2 hours away. He cannot read or write and spends his days helping his father, mixing mud for bricks, tending animals and helping in the fields. We ask him what his dream is for his future. He says he has no dreams.

We also interview 2 seven year old girls.

They all long to go to school and AC is hoping to become involved with setting up a community based school for these children in this village and in other areas where there is no access to education. This is where Worsaj began and when I think of it now, with almost every child at school, I know that it is not impossible to do the same in Rustaq, but there is so much need here.

It is sad to make decisions on priority. All the schools we see have huge needs for support, but I am reminded of what AC is all about. We want to support people in remote areas who stand little chance of receiving help due to their location. The schools we see after lunch certainly fit this. The first is called Bibi Ayisha and is in Beskent village, which serves some 2000 families. There are 460 girls in this school, from grade 1-12. We are greeted with flowers. It is an astonishing sight. A large field dotted with plastic mats and carpets, on which classes are being held out in the open. Hundreds of girls are sitting looking at blackboards. The only building is a latrine block, built by the government. Otherwise there is nothing.

And yet last year one of these girls was the top student in all Takhar Province and gained a bursary and a place to study medicine in a Turkish University. So very humbling. We interview a young 17 year old girl called Qandia Ghul. She says she can bear the lack of books, the discomfort of sitting on the ground, the long walk to school, all of which she has suffered for 12 years now, but the sun is relentless in the summer and makes studying outside a trial. She longs for a school building and dreams of studying computer science at university. There are no classrooms here, let alone computers.

So this will be our priority, to build a school for these girls, which will not only help them, but will encourage fathers, who have so far been reluctant, to send their daughters to school. 

We are getting late.  It is the first time we have ever had "security" with us. We have 2 armed guards. I ask why and am told it is not because of any threat, but is a mark of respect for our first visit - I wonder at the truth of this! We want to head home but are told there is one more school waiting for us.

We arrive at last and are shocked by the appalling conditions we find. There are hundreds of girls outside and the rest are in tents which are more like rags. There are no female teachers as there are simply not enough educated women in the area.  These girls are all Uzbek and yet the text books are in the Dari language. This will also be a priority school.

We head home as the sun sends shadows over the parched hills and clouds of dust pervade the air as cows are herded homewards.

So much to reflect upon. A vast new area with so much need.  It is a tragedy that 100 billion dollars of aid has been given to Afghanistan and yet so relatively little has been achieved. The government and the international community have failed these children.


Rebecca D. Thomas said...

I mentioned you in my blog, stay safe!!

Rebecca D. Thomas said...

At the end of my first blog post, Rebecca's Blog Heroes.