In the remote Afghan village of Abdara, girls and boys are being given equal access to education thanks to the generosity of Emiratis.
The Dubai Cares charity recently completed its first school infrastructure project in the war-ravaged country using financial donations from U.A.E.residents and corporations.
The campaign funded the reconstruction of the only two schools in the village, which is located north-west of Kabul in the Panjashir Province, affecting about 950 pupils.
The five-month project was carried out in partnership with Mahboba's Promise, an Australian non-profit organisation dedicated to Afghan women and children.
It involved hiring labourers to build a roof and a solar panel, buying 50 chairs and desks and installing a 2,000-litre water tank at the girls' school.
The boys' school received 100 chairs and desks, a 5,000-litre water tank and had a wall erected around the perimeter to ensure the pupils' safety.
The work was carried out after consultation with villagers, said Maria Al Qasimi, Dubai Care's country programme manager.
"We got the reports about the levels of need in that community and we decided to intervene,” Ms Al Qasimi said.
"We asked the community members to come up with ways that they thought we could help them, and for them to propose what they would like to be changed in their community. This was one of the things they proposed and we felt that it was in line with what we do.”
The restoration work has given the girls' school a roof for the first time in 10 years, allowing it to continue to operate through the winter, according to Dubai Cares.
Saleh Mohammed, a community elder in Abdara, said he was grateful for the project, which has not only benefited his grandchildren, but the village at large.
"Now we have no worries about their education,” Mr Mohammed said. "My grandsons have the benefit of the surrounding wall and my granddaughter will be protected from rain and snow by the new roof throughout winter.”
The project also benefited the community through the creation of job opportunities, he said.
"All the workers, including skilled and unskilled labour, were recruited from the local community and reaped the financial benefits of the project.”
Dubai Cares is in the process of completing a second, larger education project in the Afghan districts of Bamyan and Baghlan. The initiative is being carried out in partnership with the Aga Khan Development Network and involves building 45 early childhood development centres, refurbishing 72 existing ones, providing teacher training and buying educational materials.
The three-year project, which is expected to benefit about 11,200 pupils, is scheduled for completion next year. It will ensure 60 per cent of pupils are girls by improving enrolment, retention and performance. The programme will also offer literacy classes for mothers and train high-school girls to work as teachers' assistants.
"There's grave need for kindergartens in Afghanistan, because at the moment in the entire country the number of kindergartens or preschools serve only 1 per cent of the under-six population,” said Ms Al Qasimi. "It's a staggering figure. So, this is what drove us to intervene.”
These initiatives fall under Dubai Care's "What if ...” Ramadan campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty.
"All these images of half-built classrooms, or ruined classrooms, classes with no teachers, lack of textbooks in classrooms, these are all issues that we face across all the countries that we work in,” Ms Al Qasimi said. "So the ‘What If ...' campaign is supposed to shed light on things that maybe the population in the U.A.E.is not aware of. The issues that children face in other countries, but maybe people here don't know that they face, that we take for granted.
"This was the purpose of the ‘What If ...' campaign, it's to put people in the community of the U.A.E.– for a second – to have them live the circumstances the children in other countries live.”
Source: The National