Ghulam Haider, an elderly leader of Khalwan Village, Surkhrood District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, has been working with great dedication and enthusiasm advocating for girls’ education in his community over the past few years. “I was born and raised in an environment where people do not think with open minds. They strictly follow norms, traditions, and culture, which unfortunately do not allow our girls to access education. People here believe that women are born to stay within their homes, under strict “pardah” (veil). Sending girls to schools, colleges, or universities for education and pursuing a career is considered shameful and a dishonor for families. An educated lifestyle is considered to be no better than a disrespectful lifestyle, one which is not permitted within Islam, according to most people.”
Ghulam Haider believes that this pattern of thinking is fundamentally wrong, especially as it is being ingrained in the minds of children of newer generations. “Being a practicing Muslim, I believe that Islam is a religion of peace and prosperity, and it provides equal rights to all. In order to prosper, it’s necessary to accept the fact that Islam promotes education for both men and women equally. I always wished to discuss this aspect with our community members and religious leaders, but due to a lack of knowledge myself, I could not formulate valid arguments which would have been enough to persuade others.”
“Thankfully, the project team of Community World Service Asia, under the Girls Education Project (GEP), conducted informative sessions on the importance of education and child rights in our villages,” said Haider, “All community members, parents and religious leaders alike would sit in one space as participants in these programs.” He shared the significance of sourcing religious scripture and messages such as hadiths and Quranic verses in the sessions; quotes which explicitly favored education of men and women, and the right to provide young girls with education. “These sessions provided food for thought for the people of my village. Now that my knowledge was being built for the cause of education, I decided to take an initiative to formulate a volunteer committee.”
Ghulam Haider and his committee have since been supporting girls and women to pursue education and their dreams through acquiring knowledge and becoming educated. “Fatima, a young teacher from my village, is very enthusiastic and eager to become a professional teacher to serve our community. To accomplish her dream, she has established a literacy course for 13 women members with our support. She is voluntarily teaching basic level reading and writing to her students on a daily basis for an hour. The second batch of her classes have successfully graduated from the adult literacy class recently. Twenty six women have learnt to read and write from her literacy program which is an excellent achievement. To show appreciation, and motivate others to do the same, the committee awarded her with the title of “Best Girl of the Community”. Her services in the field of education were so invaluable that they were also acknowledged by our religious leaders, which shows a major change in the thinking of some of the most rigid minds.” In the award ceremony, Fatima gave credits of her achievement to both Ghulam Haider and the GEP project team for their outright support in her struggle. She hoped that with the passage of time, other elderly members of the community would also take Haider as an exemplary model and follow his lead in the pursuit of promoting education.