School funded by Angelina Jolie benefits girls in eastern Afghanistan

News Stories, 15 March 2010

© UNHCR/J.Abiera Belleza
Some of the schoolgirls at the opening of the new school funded by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in Tangi settlement, eastern Afghanistan.

TANGI, Afghanistan, March 15 (UNHCR) There were celebrations in Tangi last week when a new primary school for girls was opened barely 18 months after Angelina Jolie visited the settlement for refugee returnees and expressed concern about the lack of basic education facilities for children.

The popular UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador provided US$75,000 to build the school in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, which was inaugurated on Thursday in time for the start of the school year next Monday. Featuring eight classrooms, four administration buildings, a well and eight latrines, the school can accommodate up to 800 girls in two shifts.

It has been welcomed by parents who are reluctant, for cultural reasons, to send their daughters to schools used by boys. School classrooms built two years ago by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) provide a primary education for more than 1,300 students, with boys attending in the morning and girls in the afternoon.

But this arrangement was not satisfactory for most parents while the available facilities were inadequate to meet the needs of the growing settlement.

Laila, an outgoing 14-year-old whose family returned to Afghanistan from neighbouring Pakistan in 2008, is among those who will benefit from the new school. "I always had hopes and dreams of going to school," said Laila, adding that "the hope to become a qualified teacher has revived in me."

Hakima, also aged 14, has been studying at the existing school, but she explained that her education was being threatened by the lack of facilities. "The school we are presently studying in does not have enough classrooms . . . six of our classes are studying in tents." she said, adding: "Because of the cultural constraints and security concerns, I had decided not to continue."

Iqbal Azizi, head of the provincial education department, said Jolie gift was very important because it was ensuring a brighter future for many girls in Tangi who "otherwise would have been deprived of education in the absence of a primary school building."

There are three settlements at Tangi, gathering some 7,800 people (1,300 families) who have returned from Pakistan over the past five years. Most are originally from Kunar province, but after years in exile they had lost social networks and support systems as well as property in their villages.

They are starting afresh in Nangarhar with the help of UNHCR, other humanitarian agencies and the local authorities, who have provided basic needs like shelter, water and education facilities.

Meanwhile, Laila's father, Ustad, who worked as a teacher in Pakistan, said the new all-girls' school was an important step in the rebuilding of his country. "This is what we needed here and I believe there is a need for every community if we want to build the future of our country to build schools and get education," he said at the opening ceremony, which was attended by senior UNHCR officials.

UNHCR has been liaising with UNICEF and local education authorities to recruit female teachers and ensure the provision of textbooks. And there are plans to provide secondary education for girls at the new school. Currently, only two girls in Tangi attend high school, which is located 10 kilometres away.

By Mohammed Nader Farhad in Tangi, Afghanistan

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