Rebuilding Afghanistan's fractured society is among the chief priorities of those interested in stabilizing the country after years of war. A German education association is playing an important part in this process.
Some of the adult literacy classes are held in private homes
The German armed forces' peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan gets quite a bit of media attention back home. But far less publicized is the work of German non-governmental organizations in the war-torn country.
The German Adult Education Association (DVV) has been helping the Afghan government raise literacy levels and bring basic education to both urban and rural parts of the country since shortly after the US-led invasion in 2001.
At home in Germany, DVV community colleges offer courses meant to provide adults with skills that help them find work or simply improve their qualifications. This can involve anything from learning to use a computer to learning another language.
Since 2002, the association's international department has been trying to bring this concept to war-torn Afghanistan, where the civil society remains fractured after years of conflict. With the help of the German Foreign Office, DVV International has developed projects aimed at improving access to training for adult Afghans, promoting literacy and placing mass education on a firmer footing.
Wolfgang Schur has been working with DVV from the beginning in Afghanistan, where, he says, illiteracy levels are as high as 74 percent.
"We have a lot of experience in this field, and we are showing how we train the trainers. Funding is one thing and it's important, but so is sharing our experience with others," he told Deutsche Welle at a recent DVV conference in Bonn.
Empowering Afghan women is seen as an key part of stabilizing the country
Promoting literacy is one of the DVV's top priorities in Afghanistan, because it is a problem that affects many walks of life.
"If you look to the police, for instance, most of the lower rung of the police, they are illiterate," Schur said.
DVV International has been doing much of its work in cooperation with the Afghan National Association for Adult Education, or ANAFAE. Together, the two groups have set up 13 adult education centers, mostly in the north of the country, and two literacy programs in rural areas. ANAFAE Director Abdul Bashir Khaliqi said the programs target Afghans between the ages of 15 and 35.
"Because the population in our country is young, and, of course, they are the main resources for our country's development," Khaliqi said.
Among Afghan women, only around eight percent can read and write - a good reason why the DVV-ANAFAE programs target women in rural areas as a way to help support the spread of civil and women's rights in the country.
"They take nine-month courses, in accordance with our national curriculum … when they graduate they get a certificate, and this certificate is recognized by the government," Khaliqi said. "At least they learn how to read and write and some calculation - very basic skills at least to use in daily life."
German soldiers have distributed much ISAF humanitarian aid
Khaliqi says focusing on women in conservative Muslim Afghanistan has presented the DVV and ANAFAE with several hurdles.
"In the literacy courses, we faced resistance to the participation of women, but then we talked with the community leaders to find out [why], and the communities said, 'we do not feel secure if you do literacy classes far away from our houses, it should be close to our houses. The teachers should be women, the supervisors should be women' … so some criteria they established, and we considered this, and now it is solved.
But courses focused solely on promoting literacy can only go so far in bringing stability and progress to Afghan society, Khaliqi said. And so the DVV and ANAFAE also run programs for Afghans who need more specialized training.
"So, of course, in addition to the literacy [courses], we are providing in combination with this [courses for] economic initiative, income generation activities, civic education, health education," he said. "The training we provide is based on the needs of that rural area."
Germany has around 4,700 Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan
All in all, the DVV has received around two million euros ($2.8 million) from the German government to help run the adult schools. The head of DVV International, Roland Schwartz, said that although much more funding for education is needed in Afghanistan, his organization has been able to help Afghans take important steps in the right direction.
"The two million euros provided by the German government is only a drop on a hot stone, but, nevertheless, we are convinced that these micro-projects are successful and could provide the structure to be used by the Afghan government and the international donor community," he told Deutsche Welle at the Bonn conference.
DVV officials say they realize that bringing tangible changes to Afghan society will take time. And it will be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to measure exactly what affect their courses have on things like employment figures.
But at the same time, they believe that their programs will help to empower more Afghans to work to stabilize their own society, and support the country's process of democratization.
Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Chuck Penfold