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Young volunteers jeopardizing their lives to convey education message to 34 provinces

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By Muhammad Sadiq Yousufi-KABUL: In a rare move, amid at improving access to quality education on sustainable development at all level and in all social contexts, the Afghan education lovers from Pen Path Civil Society (PPCS) have been making all out efforts, while jeopardizing their lives to promote education across the country. Despite cultural restrictions, the ongoing conflicts have also left a large number of children out of school in restive areas—a move annoyed (PPCS) staffers and has taken initiative to promote education to help get back deprived children to school. Around 1400 volunteers from PPCS have been part of this honorable obligation to promote education.

Afghan volunteers from PPCS have risked their lives, while braving insurgent attacks, landmines, geographical restricts and transportation challenges to complete their education promotion campaign to the remote villages of all 34 provinces with a message to mobilize the local communities for promotion of education.

Leading by young Afghan education lover, Matiullah Wesa, the PPCS started campaign by motorcycles from southern Kandahar in January to travel to the most remote and deprived villages, where schools are closed by insecurity or girls are not allowed to go to schools due to cultural restrictions.

The volunteers finally completed their risky campaign after seven months in end of August after visiting most of the deprived districts of the all provinces to complete their insight of the education’s situation in the deprived communities.

Beside to visiting closed and deprived schools in remote communities, the young motivators have held meetings with local elders, young and religious leaders to mobilize them safeguard their schools, let girls join classes and to advocate for reopening of the closed schools, even in areas under the Taliban control.

“Our prime aim was to make elders and local communities to first protect their currently functional schools and then to work for reopening of the closed schools” Wesa told Afghanistan Times after returning to Kabul. “We found most of the hundreds of schools that are currently closed can be reopened with less efforts and expanses, but just need strong will from the local communities.”

According to the Ministry of education currently more than 1,000 schools have been closed all over the country, mostly in insecure areas that deprived three to five million children from education. Wesa warned that these children have been vulnerable to be used by insurgents in fight or could be easily fall victim to the addiction phenomenon.

“Government has no concrete plan to reopen these closed schools, local communities must do themselves to reopen their schools” Wesa said, adding they have list of tens of schools that would be reopened step by step in coming months with the help of the government.

In addition to the insecure the PPCS findings show that cultural restrictions deprived thousands of girls from education even in secure areas, where families still believe in the negative perception that girls must not be educated.  “We tried our best to eliminate this unjust perception from the minds families and local elders and we were somehow good in this mission” Wesa said with smiling face.

Wesa and his friends’ mission was also to meet children and encourage them with the gifts in most derived and poor villages. For this reason they have distributed more than 75,000 books and thousands of stationery tools and school bags to the poor children.

The charity’s report shows in remote areas children were attending classes with several problems as most of the schools had no buildings, books were not sufficient and the number of teachers was not enough to properly teach the poor children. “In Nuristan that we found the more deprived, there was no school for girls in none of its districts and in some areas children had to walk more than 10 km to get to the schools” Wesa recalled, adding Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, Badghis, Paktia, Paktika were among the provinces where were no schools for girls in their districts.

Most of the schools were closed in insecure areas of the insecure provinces, particularly the provinces near to the Durand line.

“There had not been 12th grade graduate in three district of Paktia province in the past 16 years, this tells us how they have deprived of their basic right” Wesa told the daily.

Wesa under his PPCS which was stabled in 2009, so far helped around one million poor children to receive books and stationery while bringing more than 3,000 poor orphan children from deprived villages to cities to get admission in schools. They are also financially supported in schools.

While already established 13 public libraries in various provinces Wesa and his group have plan to build six more in areas with people already asked for having such facilities.

However PPCS have so far also reopened tens of schools in southern Afghanistan over the past few years and have plan to reopen tens of others in coming months.

Wesa and his friends during the campaign several times faced armed clashes and survived land mine explosions but were determined to complete their visit.

“We have been for four decades in war, we need to bring education and educate our children and this is the only way to eliminate violence and war from our communities” Wesa concluded.

“We pledged to change war-turn Afghanistan thought the power of pen and book,” Attaullah Wesa, the brother of Matiullah Wesa who leads PPCS told Afghanistan Times.

“More than two thousands boys and girls schools in the country had been closed due to insecurity and corruption which resulted in drop out of more than six million children,” he added.

Highlighting the efforts and contributions of Pen Path civil society, Wesa said, “We made repeated visits to all the 34 provinces where we distributed pen, books and bags among students without any favoritism and discrimination.”