By Miranda Cleland
Do you remember learning how to read? You were probably about 5 years old, right? In the developed world, nearly everyone can read, even children, but literacy is atypical in Afghanistan—the World Bank estimates only 38% of Afghans can read and write, and the number is even lower for women, at 24%. So, discouraging facts like this beg the question: how can we begin to celebrate International Literacy Day when there is still so much work to be done? Although the literacy situation seems dire today, it is important to recognize the stunning progress of the past.
We can celebrate because 3 million Afghan girls are attending school today. Just 15 years ago, the only girls in school were the ones willing to risk their lives to defy the ban on female education imposed by the Taliban regime.
We can celebrate because the average age Afghan girls get married is constantly increasing. This means girls are staying in school longer and fighting for their right to learn harder than ever.
We can celebrate because child labor rates are falling. More children are going to school instead of work than ever before in Afghanistan. Families are braving economic hardships in order to keep their children in school as long as possible, so celebrating literacy not only honors children in school, but their families as well.
We can celebrate because Afghan women are among the bravest and most hopeful in the world. Every Afghan woman in school is there because she made a choice to pursue an education she knew would change her life. Take Farahnaz: now she’s a 7th grade student in Kabul, but for years she was abused and forbidden from school. She fled her violent home to a safe-house, where she learned of AAE schools and began attending.
Many of our students share stories like Farahnaz, so she is not alone. Even in times of severe desperation, girls are putting their education above all else—and that is worth celebrating.