Asmaan* jumps up from her bed at 5 am to wake the others. She giggles a little as she quickly dresses for school, remembering the days when she’d hide under a blanket in an effort to skip class. Those were the before days, the days of uncaring teachers, boring classes, and no special learning sessions with tea and cookies. The now days are different. Nowadays, she and 34 of her friends from the Kabul orphanage where she lives attend a great private school, thanks to you!
The private school Asmaan attends was founded by a former educator with 15 years of experience in the field. His principal, a graduate from a top Turkish university, worked in two prestigious international schools before joining the founder, and together they have created a school serving kindergarteners through twelfth graders unlike any other in the city. (Although the Taliban does not allow female students to continue their education beyond grade six, male students can attend class through grade 12 and beyond.)
The secret to this school’s success is how the founder set up his school. He employs full-time, local teachers whom he pays between two and four times the average teaching salary. He knows how to retain talent in the teaching sector is to pay teachers what they are worth. He also invests in his teachers’ professional development, holding two sessions each school year. The first session runs for 15 days, building upon the faculty’s current skills and setting them up for a successful term. The second professional development session runs for a week during the mid-term break, giving the faculty a chance to reset.
Beyond investing in the faculty’s professional development, the director holds regular department meetings, unheard of in most Afghan schools, to ensure the school stays on track. He has created a meeting room where female faculty members sit in the back rows so as not to be observed by their male colleagues in accordance with cultural traditions. While most Afghan schools do not have a teachers’ room where faculty can grade or lesson plan, this school has two faculty rooms, one for male colleagues and one for female colleagues. The school also provides its faculty members with computers, internet access, a library, and other resources to create engaging, informative, and relevant lessons.
Unlike other schools, the students attending this private school come for a full day, from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. They are served a nutritious meal each day, which takes a burden off the orphanage as food security is a constant issue. Every grade has a guiding teacher who acts like a mentor, holding informal sessions where the students can discuss their problems or receive additional tutoring. Tea and biscuits are served as the students socialize and learn.
You started supporting these students in March 2022. (The Afghan school year runs from March through mid-December.) Not only did you pay the school fees for 35 children from the orphanage, you stood by them through their initial growing pains. When the children from the orphanage first joined the school, they were academically behind their classmates. You saw this need and responded by sending two additional part-time teachers to the orphanage to tutor the children from 4 pm to 6 pm, funded from their school fees. During the winter break, which lasts from mid-December to the end of March because most school buildings lack heat, you brought four teachers to the orphanage to hold half-day classes five days a week. That way, the children held on to the learning gains they had already made.
Everyone’s hard work has paid off. Fifth-grade Asmaan used to read at a second-grade level when she joined the school. Now, she reads at a fourth-grade level and is still improving. The school held a competition to see who could solve a Rubik’s cube the fastest. A student from the orphanage won, solving the puzzle in 52 seconds! Another student from the orphanage attended a chess competition. Several male students play on a weekly soccer team, complete with soccer uniforms, a real treat as security concerns prevent kids outside the school from playing soccer regularly. These little victories build the self-esteem and confidence to last a lifetime.
The students take an average of 16 classes per term. Each week, teachers lead students in projects to raise awareness about a subject and get students excited about learning it. The students have an opportunity to win awards and prizes such as notebooks, books, and pens. The week we visited was Math Week. We hope you enjoy our photos because none of this joy, learning, or confidence-building accomplishment would be possible for these students who have lost so much without you. Thank you for showing up, especially when others were leaving Afghanistan. Thank you for loving first, always, and loving anyway.
*Not her real name.
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