Awareness | Posted by Julie Z on 07/20/2009

Schools for Girls in Afghanistan

Thomas L. Friedman reports in the New York Times about a new school for girls opened by Greg Mortenson, the author of “Three Cups of Tea.” He writes: 

Indeed, Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the “war on terrorism” is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam — a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men. America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.

While the admiral passed out notebooks, Mortenson told me why he has devoted his life to building 131 secular schools for girls in Pakistan and another 48 in Afghanistan: “The money is money well spent. These are secular schools that will bring a new generation of kids that will have a broader view of the world. We focus on areas where there is no education. Religious extremism flourishes in areas of isolation and conflict.

“When a girl gets educated here and then becomes a mother, she will be much less likely to let her son become a militant or insurgent,” he added. “And she will have fewer children. When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother. The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”

This new school teaches grades one through six. I asked some girls through an interpreter what they wanted to be when they grow up: “Teacher,” shouted one. “Doctor,” shouted another. Living here, those are the only two educated role models these girls encounter. Where were they going to school before Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and the U.S. State Department joined with the village elders to get this secular public school built? “The mosque,” the girls said.

Separating education from religion — good. Teaching girls and giving them hope and the ability to pass on their education to others, including their sons — great. It’s always nice to hear some good news amongst the ordinarily abysmal.  


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  • RebJ @ at 7:50 pm, July 20th, 2009

    I read this book some time ago, and it is truly amazing. It was able to word beautifully and honestly all of my vague doubts about the way America is “fighting” terrorism. Terrorism and extremism are both forms of ignorance, and right now we are fighting ignorance with ignorance; Greg mortenson is one step ahead of everyone.

  • Jill @ at 11:02 pm, July 22nd, 2009

    I read this book a few years ago and have recommended it many times. Many of the issues and places he describes are beyond prescient when read now.

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