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When Afsana’s parents pressured her to drop out, she found an ally in her favourite teacher

Teach for Afghanistan trains educators to intervene when girls are at risk of dropping out.

15-year-old Afsana always looks forward to Ms. Rawzia’s ninth-grade class, especially when they get to play grammar games. Her favorite one goes something like this: Ms. Rawzia draws a big line down the middle of the chalkboard and chooses a student to stand next to each half. She calls out a theme. Whoever writes the best sentence before the timer goes off wins.

“We all try to win this game and write fast,” Afsana says.

But going to school wasn’t always so carefree. Last year, Afsana faced pressure from her family to drop out and end her education.

Ms. Rawzia remembers that Afsana started looking sad in class, which was unusual for one of her top students. A once bright and attentive girl, Afsana began spending most of her days staring out the classroom window. When Ms. Rawzia asked her what had changed, she replied, “My family says that in our village if a girl goes to high school, she will bring shame to my family.”

Afsana lives in a conservative community in Parwan province, a mountainous region in Afghanistan north of Kabul, where families often believe girls do not need to go to school. Her situation was common — and Ms. Rawzia knew how to help.

As a Teach for Afghanistan (TAO) fellow, Ms. Rawzia learned how to identify students at risk of dropping out of school and convince their families to see the value in continuing their daughter’s education.

There are 3.5 million out-of-school children in Afghanistan — 85% are girls. A shortage of teachers and resources already makes it difficult for Afghan girls to enroll in school. For girls like Afsana, staying in school can also be a challenge, especially when parents demand they get married or stay at home. That’s why Malala Fund supports TAO’s work to recruit female teachers and equip them with the skills to dismantle long-held cultural beliefs that prevent Afghan girls from reaching their full potential.

“The trainings make me a better teacher because now I can understand my students better…It helps us to understand our students’ problems and find a solution for them,” Ms. Rawzia says.

After speaking with Afsana and learning about her family, Ms. Rawzia invited her parents to the school so she could reason with them. She told them a story she hoped would change their minds:

She had two neighbors, Shogofa and Lila, who loved to study until Shogofa’s family decided she had reached the age where she didn’t need to learn anymore. Meanwhile, Lila’s family let her continue studying and she eventually became a doctor. One day, Shogofa’s father got sick but he did not know when to take his medicine. So Shogofa called Lila to help her father. He said to Lila, “It was my fault. If I let my daughter study, she could help me now and I would be proud of her.”

After their conversation, Ms. Rawzia took Afsana’s parents to her classroom to watch as the school’s principal presented Afsana with an appreciation award. She wanted them to see their daughter’s talent and potential.

Ms. Rawzia’s plan worked and Afsana’s parents allowed her to continue her studies.

Now Afsana is back to being her smart, eager self — and dominating the competition in Ms. Rawzia’s grammar games. “I’m really happy and thankful for my kind teacher…she changed my life path,” Afsana says. “I aim to become a famous journalist and help my country and all girls.”