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Nafisa's Story

A cloud of dust swirled around her head as Nafisa, aged 17, swept the small yard surrounding the one room mud brick dwelling that was her home.  The eldest daughter of a family of 6 children, she was used to hard work.  But today was different!  Excitement and anticipation filled Nafisa as she hurried to finish this last chore.  Today she was going to begin her education!


Since the age of four, Nafisa had knelt in front of the large loom that took up nearly half of the family’s living space.  Tiny knots of rough wool thread, dyed in various colors, formed the intricate pattern being woven into each carpet.  As the oldest child, it was Nafisa’s responsibility to tie knots and also to oversee the weaving work of the younger children.  Each child sat very close to the loom, mechanically tying notes while breathing the dusty air full of wool fibers.  By working very hard, the family was sometimes able to complete a carpet in several months.  The sale of the carpet brought in barely enough money to survive on.


As Nafisa grew, she began to take over the other household chores that must be done—helping mother cook and clean the dishes, boiling water to wash the family’s clothes, hanging out the wet clothes, and taking in the dry ones, as well as watching the younger children.   She often dreamed of what it would be like to learn how to read and write and be able to learn about the outside world.  She thought she would give just about anything to be able to receive an education.  But school had never even been a consideration for Nafisa.  When she had been the age to start school, the cruel Taliban were in power and they had forbidden all education for girls.  Later when the Taliban left, her family had just been too poor to afford the school fees, the cost of school uniforms and supplies, and the bribes often demanded by the teachers in the public schools.  Since they lived in the rapidly expanding outskirts of the city, the existing schools were far away and Nafisa’s parents could not afford bus fees.  The family just hoped to get by on the meager income from the carpets they wove and their father’s sporadic earnings as a carrier of loads.  Life was very hard, and the children were needed to help in this battle for survival.


Sometimes Nafisa overheard talk of marriage, but up until now her parents had been too poor to make such an arrangement—something she was glad about, since many girls younger than she, were married off and sent to live with the husband’s family.


Seven years before, some foreigners had started a center in Nafisa’s neighborhood, offering hot meals, education, and vocational training to poor children.  It was called the Pelican Center, and to everyone’s amazement, they charged no fees!  A few years later, Nafisa’s father had allowed Najib, Nafisa’s younger brother to go to the center.  He went for a half day, five days a week and loved every minute of his time there.  He came home overflowing with stories about fun games of dodge ball, delicious hot meals, and the excellent education.  His mom and dad were a bit skeptical at first, but after a year, they asked a relative who was literate to listen to Najib’s reading.  The relative said he was reading perfectly!


Then one day, as Nafisa’s mother was at the market to buy some rice, she heard a rumor that the Pelican Center was now offering education classes for older girls and young women!  She heard that they had their own classrooms and were taught by qualified Afghan female teachers.  Back at home, she shared this news with Nafisa who was thrilled and determined that she, too, would go.


With the greatest politeness and respect, she brought up the possibility of going to the Pelican Center up to her father.  “Father, I would love to get an education and now the Pelican Center has opened some classes for young women.  Would you agree to let me start classes there?”  Nafisa’s mother chimed in, “It does have a good reputation in the community.  Perhaps we should let Nafisa try to learn for the rest of this year.  Then we can see if she should continue.”  Her father finally agreed, “Well, I guess it would be OK since there are no fees.”


The next day, Nafisa had accompanied her father to the Center.  After discussing the classes with a kind and smiling French lady, Nafisa’s father agreed to have her registered!


Today was the day that Nafisa would start!  She finished the sweeping, put on her scarf and excitedly stepped out of the gate to walk the three blocks to the center.  Her heart was pounding as she entered the large yellow gate and was warmly greeted by the same French lady.  She was given a brand new notebook and a pencil and was directed to the building next door where the classes for young women were being held.  After slipping off her shoes, she entered the bright pink classroom, and was excited to see many friends from the neighborhood in her class.  She took a desk at the back of the classroom and opened her notebook.  Her education had begun.


Today Nafisa has completed primary education level 4.  She has participated in hygiene classes where she has learned lifesaving lessons about disease prevention, nutrition, and childbearing.  In addition, she has begun attending vocational classes in sewing and is quickly mastering this skill, which will be so useful to her future.

Her world has opened up and she looks forward to the future with hope and understanding.