The positive stories Afghanistan needs Opinions

These days, Afghanistan rarely makes international headlines, and when it does, it’s always another tragedy. Humanitarian crisis, earthquake, deadly attack, drought, expelled and suffering refugees.

I was working at Daily Outlook Afghanistan, the country’s first English-language media outlet. In our small newsroom, we have recognized the negative psychological impact of a constant stream of bad news. So we set out to find positive stories to print alongside our regular coverage and try to counter this decades-long trend of painting Afghanistan in completely dark colours.

Daily forecasts for Afghanistan no longer exist. The newspaper, like many other media outlets, was forced to close its doors shortly after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021. Most of my colleagues fled to neighboring Iran and Pakistan; One of them, Ali Reza Ahmadi, died tragically in the bombing of Kabul Airport on August 26 of that year. Now there are fewer journalists in the world looking for the positive Afghan story.

I myself fell into the dark trap of fatalism. From a writer who always looks and analyzes political issues from the positive side and tries to give readers hope amid two decades of war and violence, I have turned into a man full of sorrow. Life became very difficult overnight. I was unemployed and struggling to support my family. Everything seemed meaningless to me.

I often heard complaints from my female relatives about their suffering under the Taliban regime and the ban on secondary and university education. This made me sad and increased my suffering.

As the months passed, I slowly began to realize that I could offer much more than just words of comfort. As the Chinese proverb says: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

So I decided to light the candle for literacy and education. I have years of experience as an English teacher, having worked with many educational institutions and initiatives across Afghanistan. It’s time to put it to use.

I found like-minded people who also decided to start playing a positive role for the younger generation in these difficult times. Together we established a private English language academy in Dasht-e-Barchi, a district west of Kabul.

Neither of us had any extra money, so we had to borrow from friends to cover the costs of renting a space and outfitting it with chairs, desks, whiteboards, solar panels, MP3 players, and monitors. We compiled the curriculum ourselves and passed the registration process with the Ministry of Education.

Despite the ban on secondary and university education, girls are still allowed to study in private education centres. So we welcomed them as our students, along with the boys.

We adhere to legal requirements and keep girls and boys in separate rooms; We also ensure that all female students wear the Islamic hijab in class as prescribed by the authorities.

We have set tuition fees that are relatively low and affordable and also offer waivers. Of the 200 students currently studying with us, 15 are non-paying and 40 are paying half the fees. The payments we collect are enough to cover the rent.

We teach for free, but we are still rewarded. Meeting daily with so many girls and boys who want to study and achieve is inspiring.

We have one student, for example, who was recently involved in a car accident. A rickshaw collided with his motorcycle and seriously injured his fingers. He sent us a message saying: I had an accident and I will have surgery. Please pray for me so that my fingers are not cut off.” To our surprise, he came to class right after his surgery.

Another student who inspires us with her design is a 16-year-old girl who works in a tailoring shop where she receives a small wage to support her family. She is very keen to learn English but cannot afford to study, so we gave her the opportunity to join our academy free of charge. To cover the cost of books and stationery, she allocates 10 Afghans ($0.14) each day from her salary.

I look back on the past few months that the academy has been open and I feel sorry for the loss of the past two years due to depression and despair. If we had started earlier, we would have helped many more boys and girls achieve their dreams of education.

Some of the students I taught a few years ago are now studying in foreign countries such as India, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, France and the United States.

But I’m also glad I left the paralysis of despair behind me and embraced hope. I also try to help my students fight depression and hopelessness. I try to inspire enthusiasm and optimism and motivate them to be active in their communities and create the positive stories that Afghanistan so desperately needs.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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