The Smartest Girl in all of Afghanistan

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 13:36 p.m. DST, 24 June 2014

" 10327-F-BH761-090 " Photo by: Ashley N. Avecilla BALKH, Afghanistan — During Afghanistan’s university entrance exams last month, a girl named Shohreh Ghaderi scored the highest of anyone in the country.

She beat over 225,000 other test-takers. Considering Afghanistan’s history of repressing women’s education, Ghaderi’s feat is challenging the status quo of families not sending their daughters on to higher education.

The university entrance exams in Afghanistan, known as the Kankor, are the Afghan equivalent of the American SATs, but far more imperative for Afghani students. Only about thirty-percent of the students that take the Kankor will be accepted to a public institution of higher education, according to Outlook Afghanistan.

Those who do not qualify have the option of attending one of the few private universities, but most students are too poor to afford it. Shohreh Ghaderi commented on the situation of her fellow test-takers to BBC News saying “Many students who sat for the exam had no security where they live. They don’t have proper books or teachers or access to computer. They have nothing.”

Ghaderi, however, will be one of the fortunate ones that will be going on to university. On taking the exam she said to BBC News, “There were 160 multiple choice questions. I only made three mistakes. I remember I was doubtful of one question. It asked what the chemical formula was for phosphoric acid. It was a very easy question, but I don’t know if I chose the right answer.” Despite those three mistakes, she managed to earn the highest score in the country.

Because of her high score she stands out, but what makes her achievement all the more noteworthy is that she is a girl. Traditionally, Afghan girls do not go on to university, instead opting for a domestic life, but that is not the case for her family. She credits her education to her family saying, “My dad used to help me with my questions. I do not believe any of this has to do with luck. I was brought up in an academic family where everyone cares about education.”

When it comes to how she achieved the highest scores in the country she says to BBC News that there was neither a “special technique” in how she studied nor any unique talent, but it was how hard she studied that mattered. She says, “Everything is possible if you have strong will. You have to have a goal in life and believe that nothing can stop you from achieving it.”

Ghaderi credits peace and security to bettering education for other girls. She tells BBC News that violence in certain areas is why girls are not going to school saying, “Some people won’t let their daughters study because of the lack of security.” She continues to say, “If everywhere was safe then there would be no excuse for stopping their daughters from studying and it would become an outdated tradition.”

With Ghaderi’s impressive score, she will be attending Kabul University. She intends on studying medicine. When she visited a class of other girls prior to their university exams, she left them with this encouraging message, “I hope I can be an inspiration to you all and that you all will be successful in the university entrance exam and then you will become and inspiration for our community.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

In Southern India Child Laborers are Given Second Chance at Childhood

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ASIA - Tens of millions of Indian children under the age of 14 are working instead of going to school. It is estimated that 12.6 million children in India are involved in hazardous work such as coal mining, firework manufacturing, and the diamond and silk industries. With the health hazards and physical danger the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said these jobs are unsuitable for anyone under 18.

In the Bangalore region of India the Bangalore Rural Educational and Development Society (BREADS) is working to remedy the staggering amount of child laborers.

BREADS is taking the next step to helping former child laborers and rescued runaways have their childhoods back, with projects such as a Child Help Line, rescue centers in railroad stations, and more than a dozen schools in the area to rehabilitate street children before they are sent to the public school system. They have also established industrial and vocational training centers, orphanages, and shelters to assist people in all walks of life.

These children have resumes longer than most adults—construction worker, servant, brick maker, garment tailor, trash collector, factory worker—the list goes on and on. Their pasts are marked with abuse, addiction, slavery, and abandonment. They are forced into working by their families or for survival after they have been orphaned or abandoned.

Susan Bissell, head of global child protection for UNICEF stated “We understand that many children work to support their families. However, when children are forced into the most dangerous forms of labor, when they then miss school, when they are at risk and their health and well-being are impaired, this is unacceptable.”

Shivu, a boy at a BREADS rehabilitation center in Davangere, was abandoned by his parents at a train station when he was 4. He was taken from the train station by a couple who forced him into domestic labor, not allowing him to go to school. His arm was tattooed with the couple’s address so he could be returned in the event he escaped. After a particularly gruesome night of physical abuse he managed to escape, and with the help of an elderly man, was brought to a BREADS center, where he is now going to school for the first time in his 13 years.

Young girls in the Bangalore area are especially in need of the protection offered by BREADS. Thousands of girls in this area alone are prone to abuse, exploitation, trafficking, child marriage, and temple prostitution, and educating girls is oftentimes given lower priority. Providing assistance to these girls not only removes them from the viscous cycle, it changes the community and helps contribute to a child labor free society in the villages in the Bangalore area.

Matt Pirrall, a humanitarian photographer currently working for BREADS said "Education is the single most important tool to combat the lies that lead to modern day slavery. I can only hope for greater awareness of their plight, to one day bring them the justice that they deserve. With the help of BREADS and the power of education, these children are now happy, healthy, and eager to learn. It is incredible to see the transformation that had taken place in their lives. "

This past year, Germany has stepped in to lend support to these children through BREADS. During German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to India, his wife, Daniela Schadt visited BOSCO Mane school in Bangalore to interact with rescued runaways and met with Railway officials and members of the rescue team. In April the German Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ambassador Peter Prugel, met with staff of BREADS to review child safety net strategies and to get informed with the harsh realities of life on the street.

BREADS is also supported by partners in the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and the United States.

At the BREADS rehabilitation centers, little hands once sore from days full of housework now lovingly hold the hands of new brothers and sisters. Little feet once raw from working in the fields barefooted now race from class to class. Little bellies all too familiar with going without food are now filled with unending laughter. These children are given more than just food, shelter, and an education—they’re given safety, security, and the keys to a renewed childhood and a new life.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCElswick

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Afghan School Girls Poisoned by Militants

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:25 PM EDT, 26 April 2010

Afghan School GirlsKUNDUZ PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Afghan women have been subjected to increasing levels of violence since 2002. The war-torn region is subject not only to external forces as America and its allies attempt to fortify the borders against Taliban insurgents, but to the internal pressures of a populace held hostage by a small group of extremist who use violence and death to enforce their version of Islam.

Today's incident in which 13 school girls became sick after inhaling a poisonous gas which leaked into their school is the latest in an effort by militant groups to dissuade girls and women from pursuing education. Afghan has a dismal 13% literacy rate among women, and many of the girls schools have been burned down or shuttered.

In 2006 when the Taliban began to enforce its version of Sharia law, 198 girls schools were burned down and 20 teachers were killed in Taliban attacks that year according to Zuhur Afghan, a spokesman for the education ministry.

The government has accused fighters opposed to female education of being behind the attack.The Sunday, 25 April incident which is the third in Kunduz province brings to 80 the number of school girls reporting symptoms such as headaches, vomiting and shivering after suspected poisoning.

In April of this year 47 girls from a different school had reported feeling dizzy and nauseous, while 23 girls said they felt unwell under similar circumstances.  On June 9, 2010, CNN Wire Staff reported the latest attack in which 16 school girls were sickened by the poisonous gas.

Preteen Divorce in Yemen | Nujood Ali

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 17:33 PM EDT, 4 March 2010

UNITED STATES - Nujood Ali is a ten-year old Yemeni girl who secured a divorce from her husband, a man 20 years her senior who violently raped her soon after their marriage. She recounts in her memoir her father promising her to this man and her mother's inability to protect her from the abuse she would soon suffer. Typical of many traditional, patriarchal societies, her father was the ultimate arbiter of all decisions pertaining to the females of his household. Even though Nujood's mother disagreed with the arrangement she was powerless to intervene.

Nujood's courageous story, "I Am Nujood, Age 10 Divorced," was just published in the United States this week. Her ordeal as chronicled in the book began when she was in the 2nd grade, before she had even had her first menstrual cycle. Though her father remained unswayed by her protestations, he did request her future husband to abstain from sexual contact with Nujood until after her first menstruation. On the day of her wedding, this small, scared girl remained curled up in a corner crying, and that night her husband raped her for the first time.

As a woman whose parents received the offer of several cows to become the nubile bride of an octogenarian, and who was violently raped as a teenager; Nujood's story evokes a visceral response in me.  Whereas I was able to avoid her matrimonial fate through the strong protestations of my mother, it was achieved at the cost of subsequent physical abuse from my father who felt defied and humiliated at his inability to "control his women."

Nujood's nuptial night rape was the beginning of a horrible cycle of abuse from both her husband and mother-in-law who encouraged her son to beat Nujood. Though only in elementary school her husband forced to drop out since education for women is not valued nor encouraged. Her life of enforced servitude and childbearing was antithetical to the independence education would have afforded her. Statistically, an educated woman will desire to improve her situation and that of her offspring, which often clashes with the rigid structure of a society where a woman's opinions and thoughts carry no weight.

This is what makes Nujood's story so remarkable, she was born and raised within this framework and was yet a child without the benefit of outside references, who had the presence of mind to escape from her husband's house and go to a local court where she bravely asked to speak to a judge. When she finally found one who would listen to her, she proclaimed with boldness,  "I want a divorce!"

Thus began a journey that would inspire other girls trapped in similarly abusive arranged marriages to petition the courts for annulments and divorces. It does not appear that Nujood knew the full import of her decision that day, nor the potential danger she faced from her family, particularly her father and brothers who could have easily murdered her, in all probability without retribution, through the practice of 'Honor Killing.'  Thankfully, this was not the case and now Nujood can live her life in a manner prescribed and determined by her in large part due to the success of her book and the income that it generates.

Nujood Ali's memoir was No. 1 for five weeks in France and is currently being published in 18 other languages including Arabic.  I highly recommend this book and encourage you to explore this issue further through the links below.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias