I met a young woman in Kabul whose story I want to share. We were in the lobby of the prestigious private high school where she taught. It was a hot afternoon in September, yet she wore a floor-length black dress and light blue headscarf wrapped closely around her face, not even a strand of hair peeking through. Only her chubby cheeks, excited smile and eyes outlined in deep blue eyeliner showed through.
I’d like to tell you her name, but I can’t.
See, this woman grew up in a very conservative Afghan family. One where women must cover much more of themselves than the usual headscarf and where daughters must always ask permission, before doing anything. At 24 years old, she lives at home, and thus is still subject to those rules.
When I met her, she had not asked her father for permission to be photographed or interviewed alone, especially by another man (our videographer). She was firm in her inability to participate in our planned, solo on-camera interview; she knew the consequences of breaking the rules and disrespecting her family.
And so I obliged, instead sitting with her for a few moments just to hear her story, as the camera rolled nearby to capture the audio. Together, we squeezed into the wooden desks in her classroom, reminiscent of my own primary school days, and she shared with me her passion for teaching.
She teaches computer classes to 14 and 15-year-olds, a difficult age to handle, I surmised, but she thought otherwise.
“In fact I love my students a lot,” she says. “They’re so sweet, so nice. I like all of them.”
I thought her steadfast optimism might have been because the principal was sitting nearby, but as we continued to talk I realized this bright outlook was part of her nature.
As a child, she and her family faced hard times. Afghanistan in the late 1980s was consumed by war with the Soviet Union. Just a few months after she was born, her family fled to safety in Pakistan. She adjusted to her new life: she attended school, learned English, made new friends, but yearned to return to her real home. Seventeen years later, the family finally did.
Since finishing her own schooling, she has been teaching. And if she has it her way, she’ll be a teacher for many years to come.
“Maybe I’ll be a teacher forever,” she says. “Because I don’t think I’ll work anywhere else.”
Recently, she took part in a training session for teachers in Kabul to further their skills in the classroom, and consequently receive a promotion. It was provided by Impressive Consultancy Company, a Kabul-based training organization, through a grant from the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP).
The training introduced new, student-focused instructional methods to a handful of promising young teachers, including her. She was recommended by her principal.
Over two months, the eight participants learned about child psychology and how teachers can better understand student behavior and adapt their teaching style.
She saw an immediate application of the training course’s material in her own classroom.
“There were some students in my class that were not studying. They were not interested in my lessons,” she remembers. “So I learned the methods…to make them have interest or how to make them learn or how to teach them in different way. So it really helped me.”
The AWDP course took an interactive approach, where participants always worked in small groups and asked questions. She appreciated the opportunity to learn from the others, and hoped they were able to benefit from listening to her even though, she says with a laugh, “I was too talkative.”
After the training course was complete, she returned to her classroom equipped with more skills and more confidence – and a raise.
She’s also gained the complete trust of her family, especially her father, who is the most supportive of her choice to teach.
AWDP is providing the same opportunity for thousands of other mid-level employees and job-seekers in Afghanistan. Already the program has trained more than 9,000 people and placed or promoted 4,176.
Our time together that day was short, but it only took me a few minutes to see her zeal for teaching. And it was contagious: I found myself peppering her with questions about why she teaches and what she most enjoys, and I genuinely wanted her to succeed.
“I have to teach,” she told me as I left. “I want to prove that I’m a good teacher, and I want to be a good teacher always.”
As I hugged her goodbye, I knew then that even if I couldn’t share her name, her story of passion and perseverance was one worth telling.