Photographed in Afghanistan, 1977: where are they now? © Tony Bates, 2012, Creative Commons license

Walton, D. (2012) ‘Education is the only solution for the problems‘ Globe and Mail, March 12

With so much bad news coming out of Afghanistan, it is a real pleasure to report on some very good news. This article (part of the Globe and Mail’s coverage of International Women’s Day last Friday) reports on 17 women students in Afghanistan who have just graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT Polytechnic), taking their courses online in a unique Afghan-Canadian school in Kandahar. They are part of over 200 students at the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar, funded jointly by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Canadian International Learning Foundation. Altogether, 2,000 Afghan students have graduated from this program.

Although more than 5 million Afghan refugees have been repatriated since 2002 (still leaving over 1.5 million in refugee camps in Pakistan), there are still 500,000 internally displaced persons, i.e. Afghan refugees who have returned but have no land, home or work.

Constant war and terror have resulted in a vast exodus of educated people leaving the country and hence little human infrastructure to provide the basis for an indigenous reconstruction of the country. Afghanistan is dreadfully short of educated and trained people, especially teachers and health care workers, but also trained managers, technicians and IT staff. This is part of the problem that the SAIT program addresses. I emphasise this because in the long run, Afghanistan will prosper only if it can manage development with its own resources and through its own people. In the meantime, the efforts of SAIT, CIDA, ACCC and other foreign agencies are essential first steps to building that internal capacity, although the numbers are still pitifully small.

I have so much admiration for the determination and bravery of the girls and women in this program who have survived acid attacks and death threats. Fear is still there. The graduation ceremony date and location had to be kept secret to protect the students.

I cannot endorse more strongly the comments from one of the women graduates: ‘I believe education is the only solution for the problems we are facing in Afghanistan.’ Education for both men and women is important, but particularly for women, who have such influence over the next generation. They are the best hope for melding education with more traditional Afghan values, to providing a path to the future that respects Afghan culture but also provides freedom and security for women.

Photographed in Afghanistan, 1977 © Tony Bates, Creative Commons License

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