For better access to job opportunities, speaking English and knowing how to use a computer are critical skills. They are also useful skills to pursue higher education, compete for scholarships, participate in workshops and study abroad.
We know this, but unfortunately in our country, Afghanistan, the education system is too weak and many children don’t have the opportunity to go to the private courses which teach these skills.
The gaps in the Afghanistan education system
We both faced difficulties in our childhood, but we have been lucky enough to be able to pursue higher education.
Unfortunately, many Afghan children do not have this chance. Many of them are child laborers. Some do not go to school because their families do not believe that education is important, especially girls. Or they may work and go to school, often leaving them too tired to acquire knowledge when attending class.
Many don’t have access to the internet, and may not even know what a computer is.
And even for those who go to school, the level of learning is quite low. A teacher may be absent too often, a textbook may be 30 years old and schools lack basic facilities. There are many hurdles.
A meeting that changed our lives
We first met Rahmat on the street in Kabul on the way to school. He was a child laborer. We talked to him and learned he was going to school but that his family did not have enough money for him to take English or computer courses.
We wanted to help him, and so we asked him to take us to his home. We talked with his parents and asked them if we could give Rahmat some support to ensure he would get a better education. They agreed. He was much younger than we expected and we realized he would need to develop better study habits before we could give him English lessons and computer literacy training. We decided that a personal mentor would be a tremendous help for someone like him.
Building a network via Facebook
When we were in Rahmat’s home, we met his brothers, sisters and a cousin. We became aware that we couldn’t just help one person. We needed to create a network. That was when the ROYA mentorship program quickly grew.
We posted messages on Facebook to recruit personal mentors and to find sponsors for the English classes, computer training and internet access.
The response was amazing. We quickly had more mentors than we had students. Many Afghans in the diaspora became sponsors for our program, and some foreigners as well.
How the mentoring program works
The children we support have all had some schooling. We meet with their families, interview the child, and assess the child’s need, motivation and commitment.
Students commit to taking English classes until they earn an English Language Diploma. Students are paired with mentors and meet with them at least weekly. Mentors help the children study, give them advice and provide emotional support.
Students receive 1 hour of English training per day, for a total of 6 hours a week. We provide computer training and weekly internet access.
Since many students didn’t master their own native language, we started classes to improve their literacy as well.
As they near high school graduation, we can provide support to pursue higher education, apply for scholarships, and seek employment. Their knowledge of English helps them to find employment and secure better positions.
Focusing on girls
It became obvious to us that girls were even more at a disadvantage than boys. Many families didn’t understand the need for girls to learn and be educated. So we decided to give girls and women higher priority.
Some parents were unwilling to let their daughters join our program. It may take many meetings and discussions. Also, once parents see the progress that their sons make, they are usually more open to sending their daughters to our program. Some have even appealed to us directly to accept their daughters. The family of Rahmat’s cousin, for example, has now allowed their 17-year old daughter to return to school and join our program.
Expanding in more cities
Rahmat was the starting point. Now, the ROYA mentorship program has 51 students in Kabul and more than 40 in the remote province of Bamyan.
We are very happy and grateful that our program received the top prize last week at the World Bank Global Youth Summit, along with NaTakallam.
Receiving this prize will give us even more opportunities to continue what we do and expand it.
We want to replicate our model in other provinces. Our hope is that one day the ROYA mentorship program can be available throughout Afghanistan. And that poor children will benefit from equal access to opportunities to help break the cycle of poverty in their families.
It will be a better future for all.