by Dusty Cooper
While Afghanistan Aid for Education (AAE) was celebrating the success of their fun run 2 days earlier, Monday Feb. 24th in Kabul also marked Afghan officials mourning the death of 21 soldiers killed by Taliban insurgents 100 miles east in the Kunar Province. While operating in a harsh and dangerous environment may serve as insurmountable for some schools, danger is not only something AAE is familiar with, but these conditions are central to the very heart of the organization.
AAE was created by Hassina Sherjan in 1996 and opened up its first schools in 1999. These schools were clandestine learning centers with 250 students being taught throughout 5 schools. Sherjan's goal was to provide education to the most marginalized communities in Afghanistan whose educations were interrupted or not allowed during Taliban rule. Since its first 5 schools operating in secrecy in 1999, AAE has blossomed into an organization that serves nine provinces and has educated over 3,000 people. AAE has since formed a strong relationship with the Afghanistan Ministry of Education and have gained recognition internationally for the efficiency and productivity of their schools and education programs. So as we see, AAE not only refused to let the Taliban affect their progress and growth, but have actually been able to thrive in this difficult environment.
AAE's founder Hassina Sherjan fled from Afghanistan to America with her parents as a refugee in 1979. Prior to her leaving Afghanistan, Sherjan received what she described as a high quality education in Afghanistan. During her time in America, as instability and Taliban influence increased, she realized the lack of opportunities for education that many in her country, most notably women, were faced with. Aware of the repression by the Taliban regime, Hassina created Aid Afghanistan for Education to educate marginalized citizens prohibited from receiving an education. AAE’s goal is “To unlock the potential of young marginalized Afghans through education as a means to prepare them to fully participate in the society” while “Providing quality education to ensure students, who do not otherwise have access to formal education, receive quality teaching.” While this mission statement and organizational goal might sound lofty in a war torn country, AAE has grow in size and influence since its creation, serving as a positive example for other educational models today.
AAE's direct involvement with the Afghanistan Ministry of Education and help in the creation of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, have lent credibility to the organization and demonstrates the high quality of education they are able to provide for their students. AAE works with the University of Nebraska Teacher’s Association out of their office in Kabul to train and certify all of its teachers, in essence providing an American standard of education.
AAE employs an accelerated learning approach which focuses on “how” students learn rather than what they learn. The pedagogical approach begins with the interests and needs of the learner and adapts the curriculum accordingly. This approach has allowed for AAE to bridge the gap for many Afghans whose education was interrupted or delayed during the Taliban rule. Despite countless success stories of AAE students going on to become teachers and doctors, increased violence by the Taliban and other factors appear to be affecting the funds AAE relies on to continue.
The attack Sunday in Kunar Province marked the deadliest incident of the year in Afghanistan which has seen a significant increase of Taliban attacks. With the elections scheduled for April 5th and the scheduled withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of 2014, it appears the Taliban are intent on escalating violence within the region while the Afghan government is in the midst of taking on more responsibility for its own security. The 21 Afghan soldiers were killed Saturday at two separate army checkpoints by what appears to be a well-planned attack involving hundreds of Taliban insurgents. There are currently 5 Afghan soldiers still unaccounted for. This recent rise in violence throughout the region has coincided with a decrease in overall funding and grant renewals for AAE and highlights the increased need for AAE at a very vulnerable time. In March of 2013, AAE was told one of its largest grants was unable to be renewed, forcing them to continue their work on a constrained budget. Facing an increase in violence, the need for AAE's services becomes more and more essential to the continued development of the community and its individuals. What served as a fun way to bring the British Embassy and Kabul residents together for some exercise also served an extremely important role for providing much needed funds for the quickly depleting AAE account.
Give2Asia was fortunate enough to have Hassina Sherjan visit our office late last year to talk about recent developments within AAE as well as in Afghanistan itself. Sherjan detailed the approach of a long term commitment to education for Afghanistan's marginalized citizens and left us with the quote "Why plant seeds if we don't water and watch them grow?"
That said, the decrease in funding is beginning to take its toll. Despite the difficult working conditions, AAE has managed to provide a high quality education for its students for only $1.50 a day and $45 a month per student. AAE also works directly with the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul which helps sponsor students to attend graduate school at a cost of $5,000 a year.
I have attached a link below to gain more information as well as donate if you are so inclined to do so. I have also provided a link with all the media on the Afghanistan Aid for Education website which details AAE's inception as well as numerous interviews with Sherjan herself.
Donate Now - http://give2asia.org/AAE
Information used from Afghanistan Aid for Education as well as Cassandra Vinograd and the Associated Press.