KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – There is a plaque on the campus of Zarghona Girls School in Kabul. In part it says that “so that freedom of thought may always flourish.”
The scene is empty. The couch and the desk were covered in dust. It’s been empty since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021.
Before that, 8,500 girls of all ages attended their classes three shifts a day. Zarghona is the most famous all-girls school in the country. It dates back to the days of the last Afghan shah.
The words “If you try, you can fly” were scrawled on the classroom door. At the same time, a lesson about English and life.
Photographs of the best students from year to year adorn the walls. They wear white headscarves and look happy. That was then. It’s a different world now.
The Taliban have implied, but never officially stated, that older girls will be able to return to classes in March, after winter break.
I asked the headmistress, in a room echoing children’s voices, if she believed it. It was not an easy question for a woman who a few minutes earlier told me that girls have a right to an education.
“Taliban has to come up with a plan for girls to learn,” she said. We hope that her words continue to repeat. Hope is a long way from certainty.
The school has 234 teachers. All women. All work now.
Hakimullah, the caretaker, lives at the school with his family and takes care of him. He pointed out the community square, the fruit trees, and the balcony where the principal stood to make announcements. He called the heron roaming.
His own 13-year-old daughter may have been the victim of the Taliban’s last education edicts.
“It was very sad,” he said. “All the teachers have worked hard to make this a good school. That is their result. ”
‘I DON’T HAVE ANY OPTION’
On a hard pavement square, on the other side of Kabul, Hadia Ahmadi watched the dirty shoes pass in front of her and stay dirty. Her shoe shine job was just one step away from begging.
She has an impressive range of polishes and brushes, and wears dark glasses to protect against the blazing sun. Poor Afghanistan. Most of her hours in the cold are spent without shoes.
“I didn’t have any options, so I decided to polish my shoes,” she told me. “Our savings are complete. We were all, for days, hungry and without food.”
Her real job, in a happier life, is teaching in a school. That was before the Taliban sent all the female teachers home and turned a proud woman into a lowly, almost penniless existence.
“I love my job,” she said. “I am teaching the language and really love it. I miss my job.”
She told me that some days she earns so little, she comes home in utter despair
“I’m going home. I’m crying. It’s sad for me.”