Asst. News Editor
In 2009 Malala Yousafzai, who was then 11-years-old, spoke openly about her devotion to learning in Pakistan where the Taliban prohibited girls from being educated. A strict form of sharia law had attempted to be enforced by Islamic fundamentalists in a region of Pakistan. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, managed one of the few schools that resisted orders from the Taliban to end education for girls.
On October 9, 2012 in Swat Valley, Pakistan, Ms. Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban gunman on a school bus filled with schoolchildren. She survived the attack.
“That was really strange, because normally they don’t shoot women,” said Hassina Sherjan, founder and CEO of Aid Afghanistan for Education (AAE). “They don’t kill women, not because they have this tactic, I think it’s because they think it’s not worth it. ‘Why waste a bullet?’ But the fact that they actually did, she must have been a big threat for them. She was very courageous to do what she was doing, for a very young girl.”
AAE is an organization that promotes the empowerment of Afghans and restoring the education system in Afghanistan. Their mission is to strengthen the potential of young marginalized Afghans through education and prepare them to be functional members of society. This system focuses on providing primary and secondary education for individuals who did not have access to education during the war, or who are not being educated right now.
“If you’re 10 years old and you never had access to education, there’s nothing in the formal system for you,” said Sherjan. “You either have to sell potatoes, become insurgents or blow yourself up.”
On Wednesday November 6, 2013, Sherjan, a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard, spoke at Millersville’s main campus in Gordinier Hall to discuss strategies on how to stabilize Afghanistan and bring peace to that country through education.
Sherjan opened her conversation with the Millersville community by discussing planning versus improvisation.
“I’ve never really learned to plan, which is totally not a very good thing,” said Sherjan. “It got me to where I am right now, but I needed people around me, who are planners because I couldn’t plan anything.”
In 1978 Sherjan came to the United States with her family at age 19, before the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan. She criticized the lack of planning by the United States when the country pulled out of the war, without bringing the Soviet Union and Afghanistan together. After the Soviet Union and Afghanistan fought over power and destroyed Afghanistan, the Taliban arrived and took over Kabul.
Sherjan explained that the problem with the Afghan education code is that it does not permit anyone over 10 years old to attend public school. High illiteracy rates have been caused by war-torn regions where schools were destroyed. About 87% of women and 57% of men are illiterate. Girls who were 17 years old had a third grade reading level because they were pulled out of school when the Taliban took over.
The 13 schools funded by AAE have a student population of 3,000 female students and 104 male students who did not have access to education due to early marriages or years of war.
According to surveys conducted by the UN, the sole predictor for change is a mother’s education level. When a mother receives an education, she is more likely to marry later in life and survive childbirth. Their children are well nourished, vaccinated, survive childhood and have access to water and adequate sanitation.
Sherjan’s mission can be summarized in her statement on educating women: “When you educate women the benefit is three-fold. As women become educated they are passionate and dedicated to the education of their children, so as to ensure the education for the next generations. When you educate women, you provide them with the tools they need for motivation to change their community for the better.”
While visiting a refugee camp with her sister-in-law, Sherjan encountered 50-year-old women who were learning how to read and write for the first time.
“Their eyes were all glowing as if they found a treasure, and they kept saying, ‘What else? What else?’” Serjan said. “I could have been any of these women sitting in this refugee camp. They’re Afghan, I’m Afghan. It’s just luck that I was born into a family that could take me to America.”
To help fund the effort for peace in Afghanistan visit: http://www.aidafghanistanforeducation.org/.