Mar 15, 2010

Worldview: Grassroots Afghan education

We all know the importance of educating girls (and boys, too) in poor Muslim countries.

So it is exciting to come across a successful educational model developed by an unusual Afghan educator to teach poor minority children. And it's a model with a special link to Philadelphia.

Kabul's Marefat School, the brainchild of Aziz Royesh, was built by the residents of a minority slum and teaches not only educational basics but principles of civic responsibility and humanistic values. I have visited the school and was bowled over by what it has accomplished.

But equally fascinating: Last week, the National Constitution Center brought Royesh and a gaggle of Afghan boys in suits and girls in headscarves to Philly, where the Marefat School has been paired with Constitution High School, a predominantly minority charter school. The link with the Marefat School was made by a young Philadelphian, Jeffrey Stern, who spent two years in Kabul and now manages international projects for the Constitution Center.

Students of both schools are putting together an exhibit of photos about the meaning of freedom to minority groups. It will be shown the second week in May at the Constitution Center and later at the National Museum in Kabul. "Our school should be regarded as a branch of the Constitution Center," says Royesh. And the Marefat School should be regarded as a model for how Americans can help Afghans get the education they need.

What makes the Marefat story so exceptional is that it was built by poor Afghans who wanted better education for their children using small contributions and sweat equity. The inspiration came from Royesh, a compact man with a neat beard who was forced to abandon his own formal education when he fled the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He educated himself and began setting up schools in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. continued on...