The issue of providing quality education to children in Afghanistan persists. According to UNICEF, approximately 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are not in school, including more than two million girls. Afghan children face several barriers to education. These include “a shortage of schools and insufficient transportation” as well as a scarcity of qualified teachers. Only 48% of teachers possess the “minimum academic qualifications” to teach. For girls specifically, continued antiquated cultural practices, including child marriage in impoverished areas, continues to serve as a significant hurdle. Securing education for children in Afghanistan is important since education is a proven tool for breaking cycles of poverty. Furthermore, providing education for street kids in Afghanistan is especially important because these children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty.
The Plight of Street Children in Afghanistan
The term “street children” refers to children who live and/or work on the streets. In Afghanistan, the number of street kids is rising steadily, with at least 50,000 in the capital of Kabul. Endemic poverty and parental deaths caused by decades of war have forced many children into labor. Some of these children are as young as 3 years old. According to Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian aid organization, street children earn an average of less than $2 a day through menial jobs including collecting garbage and polishing shoes. These meager wages are barely enough to survive on. As such, working on the streets has become synonymous with malnutrition, illnesses and even sexual assault. Ensuring access to education for street kids in Afghanistan is paramount if Afghan children are to break free of cycles of abuse and poverty.
Organizations Providing Education for Street Kids in Afghanistan
While the current status of education in the country and the plight of its street kids is lamentable, the work of several organizations on the ground in providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan suggests that not all hope is lost.
- Mahboba’s Promise. Founded by Mahboba Rawi, an Afghan refugee, this organization is committed to rehabilitating street kids in Kabul by placing them in “safe houses.” The safe houses provide the children with well-balanced meals and teach fundamental subjects such as English, math and Islamic studies. Partnering with Architects Without Frontiers, Mahboba’s Promise successfully opened the Hope House in 2007. The Hope House is a shelter for women and children living in poverty that comes fully equipped for educational and recreational facilities while serving as an oasis of safety away from the turbulent streets of Kabul.
- Aschiana. Engineer Mohammed Yousef founded Aschiana in 1995. He was spurred to action after witnessing the harsh living and working conditions of street kids in Kabul. At its Day-Care Center, Aschiana provides basic education and vocational training for women and children while offering art-based therapy to help children who may have been traumatized by war, among other initiatives. Aschiana also organizes “mobile library units” to improve literacy and arranges legal aid for children charged with crimes. Today, Aschiana operates in seven provinces in Afghanistan and has impacted the lives of more than 150,000 women and children.
- The Noor Foundation. Founder Noor Ramazan was once an Afghan street kid himself. However, he broke free from his family’s cycle of poverty and became a successful businessman. He opened a tour guide service, Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan, in 2015. Recognizing the importance of providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan, Ramazan founded The Noor Foundation early in 2021 with the hope of saving street kids in Mazar-i-Sharif from the fate he managed to escape. At present, Ramazan is concurrently working on two projects. The first, Noor’s Nest, will be a shelter for about 30 street kids. It will have comfortable lodging facilities and staff to support the children’s educational and extracurricular endeavors in a “family-type setting.” The other project, The Noor School, will accommodate up to 200 children. Street kids will receive free tuition and priority access. Ramazan intends to start constructing the school by 2022 and has obtained financial support from 264 Education, a German NGO that reached out to Ramazan after hearing about his aspirations through the popular YouTube channel, Yes Theory.
Both local and international organizations have managed to make inroads concerning education in Afghanistan. However, the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country threatens to undermine current and future progress. As the Taliban expands control of the country due to the power vacuum created by the United States, the future of education for Afghan children, especially girls, remains precarious. Without the continued provision of education for street kids in Afghanistan, there is a high risk of child recruitment by the Taliban. In a land rife with volatility and instability, prioritizing the education of children is imperative to equip Afghan children with the knowledge and tools to create a better and brighter future.
– Vyas Nageswaran