Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Free from Taliban, Afghan Women Seek Education in SHARE-Sponsored Schools

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Free from Taliban, Afghan Women Seek Education in SHARE-Sponsored Schools

Article excerpt

Dr. Soheir Stolba, president and co-founder of The SHARE Institute, addressed the Marin Chapter of the World Affairs Council of Northern California March 20 at San Rafael's Dominican University. The SHARE Institute is a non-profit organization which develops health and education programs for women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Nigeria, Yemen and Egypt.

Last November Stolba, professor of anthropology at Sacramento's American River College, traveled to Kabul to teach 25 women and men grant proposal-writing skills. "They're looking forward to making a difference in their lives," she enthused.

On her trip, Stolba also met with students enrolled in SHARE-sponsored home-based schools in Kabul. She explained that 340 girls and women ranging in age from 9 to 38 currently are enrolled in the popular all-female classes, held in rooms of private homes which SHARE rents from local residents. Forty-five of these students recently completed a one-year third-grade-level reading and writing program. The instructors are women-mostly widows, since that is the fate of 60 percent of the women in Afghanistan's capital. They are paid the equivalent of $8 per month.

One 35-year-old woman told Stolba she attended the school because "I felt like I was blind. Now I can read everything. This is what is important to me."

One dilemma facing Stolba is whether to fund more first- through third-grade programs for a new group of students or use her organization's limited funds to provide continuing education to recent graduates. Without a large donation, SHARE is unable to do both, she lamented.

Asked how Afghans regard the regional warlords who control the rural areas outside the capital, Stolba replied, "They don't like the warlords and would like to see the central government of Hamid Karzai take control of the entire country, not just Kabul." The government lacks enough money to rebuild the infrastructure, she explained, which is necessary in order to provide security throughout the country.

One audience member asked whether, in Stolba's opinion, Afghan women were better off now or under the Taliban. The anthropologist answered unequivocally: "The best period for Afghan women was under the Soviets, when women were military officers, teachers and doctors. Women have freedom now, but that doesn't mean much if you can't feed your family."

Stolba expressed "a glimmer of hope because of people-to-people assistance and the few Afghans who are able to build small businesses. …

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