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Up north in Mazar

A day after arriving in Kabul, I back at the airport to catch a UN flight to Save the Children’s regional office in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. I am both amused and taken aback by a sign outside the terminal building which politely says “please drop your weapons here”. Should the need arise, a big barrel is conveniently placed underneath it.

After being subjected to the rigorous security checks at the airport and having my bags (and myself – not a pleasant experience!) searched so many times that I lose count, I am finally in the air.

There is no denying that Afghanistan is breathtakingly beautiful. Despite being a city girl and not a fan of the great outdoors, I am awestruck at the view from my plane window of the snow capped Hindu Kush mountains and the beautiful landscape of this war weary country.

In Mazar, I spend the afternoon visiting two Accelerated Learning Centres (ALCs). Many children in Afghanistan, especially girls, have spent long periods of time outside the formal system. These ALCs provide them with accelerated ‘catch up’ education through bridge classes so that they are prepared for their re-admission (or first time admission) to schools. Over the last year, Save the Children established 455 ALC’s across the country, allowing almost 14,000 children to access education for the first time.

We have also facilitated the enrolment of 50% of ALC graduates into the formal school system where Save the Children’s partner organisations have trained teachers on child friendly teaching methods. On a blackboard precariously supported by a wobbly easel, the children show me their newly acquired numeracy skills, challenging each other to maths problems.

Many of the girls I talk to say they found it hard to convince their parents to let them attend the ALCs. Despite the recent emancipation of women in Afghanistan, it is hard to gloss over the fact that things are still very grim. Almost 60% of Afghan brides are aged under sixteen, only 13% of women are literate and just 5% of girls attend secondary school. However, it is wonderful to see such an ambitious group of girls with a strong desire to receive an education and the dignity that comes with it.

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