Afghanistan: tired of war, young people just want peace and security
30 June 2011

Returnee girls are keen to grab any opportunities available, Herat, Afghanistan (Peter Balleis SJ/ JRS)
Since 2006, the JRS team has been engaged in teaching English, computer science, biology and physics to more than 3,000 university students in Herat and Bamiyan.
Rome, 30 June 2011 – Although more than half of all Afghans are of school-going age (representing 68 per cent of the population, the highest proportion in the world); few have an opportunity to go to school.

Contrary to the reputation of war and violence associated with the country in both national and international media, most young Afghans are tired of their current situation and want a life of "peace and security".

In fact, out of 33 million Afghans, only 10,000 are rebels, according to figures provided by the Interior Ministry. Yet, 0.05 per cent monopolises the interest and resources of the international community.

"Afghan children dream about education," said JRS Afghanistan Director, Stan Fernandes SJ.

"Our mission is to give a voice to the other 99.5 per cent," Fr Fernandes, "those who struggle to get ahead and hope with all their heart for a better tomorrow."

Together with the local population, "we hope and pray for peace and stability in Afghanistan. In the meantime, we continue our journey among these people, reaching out to the most marginalised. In doing so, we get more than we can ever give. We are enriched and overwhelmed by the affection of those who benefit from our work."

"Young people like us will lead the country. We are going to rebuild it and fulfil the dreams of the people. This generation, which experienced conflict and exile, needs to be empowered in order to focus their energies, enthusiasm and potential to promote peace and development in Afghanistan," a female student said.

JRS, after five years in Afghanistan

A team of Indian Jesuits has been active in Afghanistan since April 2005, primarily in the field of education, serving under the banner of JRS. Their first project was the step-by-step transformation of the Herat Technical High School into a model institution for western Afghanistan. Today, 600 students can choose to train in electricity, electronics or construction; trades that will assure jobs.

Since 2006, the team has been engaged in teaching English, computer science, biology and physics to more than 3,000 university students in Herat and Bamiyan. Conducting intensive teacher nurturing training for high school staff is another effective JRS outreach in Herat, Kabul, Bamiyan, Chagcharan and Daikundi.

This programme aims to equip teachers with basic fluency in English and provide practical training in teaching skills. The 1,600 trainees include in-service teachers from government schools and private training institutes, and students from teacher-training colleges and university education faculties.

In another initiative, working with returnee families in the township of Sohadat, 35km from Herat, JRS has been involved in providing livelihood, health and vocational services.

There JRS has managed a primary school, benefiting some 200 children, up from 50 in 2009, and a clinic providing primary healthcare to over 250 patients a week, some of whom travel miles from surrounding villages.

In addition to supporting livelihood programmes, JRS has established three self-help groups for women. This has helped the women to grow in confidence and take a more active role in community planning and decision-making. Two groups have started grocery shops and a third has taken up soap production, contributing significantly to the township's development.

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James Stapleton
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