For Afghan Women: Sowat is Middle Ground

Noor Bibi has perfect vision, but she calls herself blind.
“Without literacy, I am the same as a blind person,” she explains. “I couldn’t read even a hospital’s board or a drugstore’s board. For this reason, I decided to become literate.”
Noor, right, is 35 years old and married with ten children–six boys and four girls, to be exact. In January 2010, she enrolled in Barakat’s Sowat Amausi Home-Based Literacy Program in Guzar Attar Khana, in theAndkhoy district of Faryab, AfghanistaMah Noor
Six days a week, Noor wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to complete the day’s household chores and care for her children. But each day in the late afternoon, she puts everything aside.
She walks to a nearby home, sits down next to one of the other 20 students, takes out her schoolbooks, and listens raptly to her teacher, Marina. From 4 to 6 p.m., they learn to read and write Dari, as well as mathematics.
For Noor, whose father would not let her attend school as a girl, Barakat’s home-based literacy program gives her the opportunity to become literate, while accommodating for her busy schedule.
“Our course is at a good time because I can go and study, then work at home,” said Noor.
The courses take place in the home of a host family, and all of the teachers are female to encourage enrollment of women who cannot attend public school for religious or cultural reasons. The students range from 7 to 55 years in age.
A Fellow Sowat Learner
In another host’s home in Shahr-e-now, a nearby town also in Andkhoy, sits 17 year-old Zeb-ul-Nisa.
Like Noor, Zeb-ul-Nisa,  attends a Barakat-run Sowat Amausi program. She too wakes up at 4:30; beginning her day with the fajar prayer, then breakfast. Her class begins at 7 a.m., and goes for two hours, six days a week.
“After finishing the course each day, I weave rugs at home,” said Zeb-ul-Nisa. “Our course is at a very good time because I can both study and do housework.”
There are several local schools nearby, but like Noor, Zeb-ul-Nisa’s father won’t let her go to public school.
While Zeb-ul-Nisa’s mother has some say in the matter, “the final decision,” she says, “is made by my father.”
With her father’s permission, Zeb-ul-Nisa hopes to continue her education at a formal school one day. In the meantime, she says, she’s grateful that the Sowat Amausi programs can provide a middle ground for her and her family.
Noor and Zeb-ul-Nisa are nearly 20 years apart, but both women have the same thirst for knowledge. In between their household tasks, they read whatever they can get their hands on in their homes: books, magazines, newspapers.
“I wanted to learn to read and write because I could not even read a simple banner. I want to have a job outside of the home. I want to live in comfort,” said Zeb-ul-Nisa.
Although both cannot say for sure whether or not they will be able to continue their education, for them, becoming literate has simply enhanced their quality of life and given them new perspectives. Noor insists that she will send all of her children to school, and Zeb-ul-Nisa wants to become a teacher herself.
In the words of Noor, becoming literate has opened their eyes.

And neither of them are planning to shut them again.


By: Lisa DeBenedictis


Written By: Lisa DeBenedictis