When the Taliban took over Afghanistan earlier this year, they said that women and girls should not return to school. Without any clear solution to this issue, one woman decided to take action and make a change. Angela Ghayour, an Afghan diaspora member, was determined to keep girls in school and opened up an online alternative for young students. Today, the school has about 400 teachers that volunteer, and approximately 1,000 students.
Angela was just eight years old when the civil conflict in Afghanistan erupted in 1992. Her family fled to Iran from their home in Herat, in the west of the country, and Angela was unable to attend school for the next five years due to the temporary visa status of the family. According to BBC, Angela stated that “[I]t was quite common back then that Afghan children who had fled to Iran couldn’t go to school, because they didn’t have the right documents.” Five years later, her family was able to receive their visa and she finally had the opportunity to go back to school. By that time she was 13 years old, and realized she had a calling.
Angela would come home every day after school and teach 14 other Afghan children who were unable to attend school. Her father was a gardener, and she would gather the little class in his well-kept garden and teach them everything she had learnt that day – reading, writing, and mathematics. Angela returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban were deposed from power, qualified as a secondary school teacher, moved to the Netherlands, then the United Kingdom.
Angela, like many members of the Afghan diaspora, has felt paralyzed as events in her homeland have unfolded in recent months. After 20 years of war, the Taliban stormed back to power as the United States evacuated the last of its forces. Two decades of progress in women’s education were jeopardized in what seemed like a second. The Taliban argue that the limits on women working and girls studying are “temporary,” and that they are only in place to make all jobs and learning environments “safe” for them. Angela was depressed at the prospect of girls being denied an education once more, as she had been for her first five years in Iran. She felt obligated to act after three months of receiving no indication from the Taliban that the limitations would be eased.
As a result, Angela established the Online Herat School, a resource for Afghan women and girls. She sent out a call on Instagram for support from any experienced teachers, and approximately 400 people have signed up for the program since then. They offer over 170 different online programs in anything from math to music to culinary to painting via Telegram or Skype. The majority of the teachers are Iranians who work two to eight hours every day. “[I] feel this school is the result of all of my pain, my agonies and experiences,” said Angela. “[O]ur motto is, the pen instead of the gun.”
Recently, there have been some positive announcements regarding young girls and women located in the northern part of Afghanistan, where five of the country’s 34 provinces now allow girls to return to secondary school. Furthermore, female students at private universities have also been told to go back. However, for most young female students in Afghanistan, returning to school is not an option. While Angela’s initiative is important and helps many students in the country, she can’t fight this battle on her own. International institutions and countries need to take action to fight for these young girls and their right to education.
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