For decades schools in Afghanistan stood empty. Then, at the turn of the millennium, the Taliban rule collapsed. Aid poured into the country and schools reopened.
But for Kalan, aged 16, from Kabul, and thousands like him, nothing changed. ‘I was born deaf,’ he says, ‘so I couldn’t go to school.’
Living with disability
Nearly three-quarters of children living with physical or mental disabilities in Afghanistan are excluded from education. And they don’t gain the skills to get a job when they are older. Kalan believed he would always be shunned, in permanent need of support. 'My parents thought there was no hope for a good life for me,' he says.
What Kalan didn’t know was that people were lobbying on behalf of children like him. Tearfund partner Serve Afghanistan helps children with disabilities – teaching them sign language, literacy, braille and offering mobility support.
Thanks to Serve Afghanistan, Kalan finally enrolled at school. 'I have lots of friends,' he says. 'Serve helped my teachers to understand my needs, and respect me. My parents are so happy.’
Pioneering inclusive education
The encouragement from teachers has been pivotal to Kalan’s progress. And, thanks to your support for Tearfund, Serve Afghanistan are training more teachers to be inclusive – opening doors for more disabled children.
‘When I was younger, a blind student wanted to go to my school,’ says Ahmed, a teacher at Kalan’s school. ‘I refused. I thought he couldn’t learn anything.’ His attitude changed after a Serve training course. ‘I was surprised that I could teach children with disabilities.’ Today Ahmed champions inclusive education and is a master braille trainer.
But Serve Afghanistan are doing much more than changing one school. They have taken a central role in shaping Afghanistan’s education policies. Alongside several other organisations, Serve started advocating for inclusive education in 2009.
They took a leading role: writing Afghanistan’s inclusive education policy (approved by the Minister of Education in 2014). Thanks to this law, across Afghanistan, thousands of children with disabilities can join their friends in school.
Claiming children’s rights
Kalan has learnt sign language and is no longer living on the sidelines. ‘I shop for myself and communicate through sign or writing,’ says Kalan. ‘I go to community events and weddings. I am very proud that I can help my mum with the housework, and my dad in his workshop. I am very happy.
'Now deaf people have much more opportunity to know and fight for their rights. I talk to disabled children and tell them that they shouldn’t feel hopeless. They should ask their parents to find a school where they can get an education. I hope to become a teacher or be a help to the deaf community.'
Joined by a new generation of advocates like Kalan, and with the help of our supporters, we won’t stop until marginalised children all across Afghanistan have been empowered to unlock their God-given potential through an inclusive education.
Some names have been changed to protect people’s identities.
(This article first appeared in Tear Times Summer 2017.)
Praise God for the breakthrough in the education of children with disabilities and that children like Kalan have hope for their futures.
Pray for Serve Afghanistan and the teachers, schools and organisations that are working hard to give these children opportunities. Pray for wisdom and resources.
Pray for Afghanistan as war continues – over 5,000 civilians have been killed or injured this year to date. Pray for an end to the hostilities.
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