Yesterday I enjoyed the pleasure of delivering six laptops for a girls school in Kabul. I also paid for a new generator and the salary for a computer teacher for one year. Just under $3,000 set up a computer lab and funded it for one year. In a country like Afghanistan where schools and teachers themselves are sorely lacking, should it be a priority to delve into computer labs and training?
The agreement to set up a computer lab at a girls secondary school was born out of the desire to help, and out of curiosity. Would the computers, especially ones not hooked up to the internet, be of genuine use? $3,000 could pay yearly salaries for two teachers at the school. There were questions to be answered debating the use of funds for computers over teachers or more traditional curriculumn.
Then I met the girls.
6 laptops were brought over from the States. The box arrived safely in Kabul airport only to be delayed by the security guards checking our baggage via x-ray as we left the baggage claim. Mind you, its already been screened at least four or five times since leaving Denver, have paid two tariffs for extra baggage and weight charges and they have the cheek to try to get me to pay a bribe for bringing in the laptops for the girls school. A dialogue over the fact that these were intended to be DONATED not sold to a girls school, etc. etc. went back and forth for a while. Luckily, I had duct taped that box up so good that when they keep shouting at me to open and I shouted back… “WITH WHAT?” as I clearly couldn’t open without a knife or scissors. They finally shooed me out of there.
Next up was arranging for delivery. My good friend, photographer, and Afghan advisor in this country, Travis Beard, took on the additional role of chauffeur and tied the box onto the back of his motorbike, so that the computers, both of us, and his video equipment all squeezed onto the Japanese dirt bike for the 30 minute drive to the school.
We arrived safely and gathered the seventh year girls in the room designated to be used as the computer lab. We asked them how many had used computers before, twelve raised their hands, and we discovered that they had all shared one computer a couple of years back. We asked what many of them wanted to do after school. The answers ranged from: artists, teachers, journalists, tailors, doctors, and even one policewoman. Amazing girls with lofty dreams.
How would the computers help them reach their goal? The girls all reiterated that the main benefits of computers were how they made the world a smaller place. Knowledge was more accessible, word and excel programming made their work more efficient, and internet broadened the world beyond Afghanistan.
All but the artists raised their hands when we asked if they felt computers would be necessary for their future work.
Then we turned it around, the girls got ask me questions. One girl asked the all important question, “why us?” “Why did you decide to help the girls of Afghanistan?” Its a tougher answer than you’d think. How do you put to words the deep seated anger and frustration one feels over the inequity and struggle women and girls suffer every day in Afghanistan? How do you explain that you can’t NOT help if at all possible to make their worth come to light? In the end, I simply said, “I have a daughter. Devon is five years old and you deserve to have the same education and opportunities that she does.” That said it all.
The girls continued to ask questions shyly and eventually we unpacked the laptops so the girls be part of the set up of the lab. We said our goodbyes and one of the girls raised her hand to speak, “Thank you for the computers and for saying that we are as important as your daughter.” These girls are amazing and I felt humbled by their gratitude. They are getting nothing less than what they deserve, the right to an education and the tools to make their lofty careers goals a reality.
Ironically it is the same case in a much different school. A co-ed school in the remote mountains of Panjshir. A village several hours down the valley that has a school from 1st-12th year. Very unusual in a village this remote. I spoke at length with the principal and one of the founding teachers of the school about what the school needs and he discussed the need for stationary (paper and pens) at their school is the biggest need. Surprisingly, it’s the reason many children do not attend school. Their families are simply too poor to afford the 20 cents for a notebook. The school houses 600 students on average.
Amazingly, the other need is computers. I was surprised, and asked why they felt computers would be a necessary component of their school. IM explained that it connects them to the rest of the world and allows their remote village to provide better education for their children. They already have a teacher qualified in computer sciences so its simply a matter of machines.
As a great friend and mentor has told me numerous times, “Go over there and listen. Have cups of tea and listen.” Well, I’m listening and I am getting the message.