While the diplomatic pantomime of talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban was reaching its inconclusive final act earlier this month, Mumtaz Ahmad* was getting on with her day job. She was delivering maths and science classes to 35 children, most of them girls, in a remote mountain village in the hills outside Kabul.
“We need peace,” Mumtaz told me, “but without education what chance will these girls have for a better life; and what hope is there for Afghanistan’s future?” Children whose lives have been torn apart by war and other humanitarian emergencies understand the hope that comes with education. A report published by Save the Children on Tuesday, Education Against the Odds, reveals that children caught up in emergencies overwhelmingly rank getting back into school as their top concern.
Sadly, less than 2 per cent of humanitarian aid is directed to education, effectively robbing children of the hope, security and normality that comes with being in school. The take home message for policy-makers: it’s time to listen and learn from children on the front lines of today’s conflicts – children like those being taught by Mumtaz, herself a former refugee.
Three years ago none of her pupils, all aged between 10 and 14, were in school. Most were working in fields or breaking stones for road-building. Thanks to a successful aid programme, they have now in their third year of schooling – and the girls will be the first in their village to attend secondary school.