Within seconds, a herd of huge, burly yaks stampeded past the school, thundering toward the river. The yaks’ hoof beats shook the ground and momentarily drowned out the voices in the classroom. As the yaks thinned out, the students turned their attention back to the teacher and did not notice the young boy in threadbare clothes and Chinese rubber boots rounding up the stray yaks.
Krit. Wakhan. Afghanistan. July 14, 2012
The boy should be in school. But like millions of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he has to work instead. When children reach school age in these impoverished societies, parents must weigh their two options: work or school. “Everyone has a fierce desire for education, but where there is such abject poverty and survival depends on manual labour, many children are deprived of school,” says Greg Mortenson, co-founder of Central Asia Institute (CAI), a non-profit organisation that built DeGhulaman’s first school.
In DeGhulaman, most adults are illiterate and there are no paying jobs. Families herd sheep, goats and yaks, and grow small plots of grain and vegetables in the arid, high- altitude landscape.
The village children rise before sun-up, fetch water and collect dry yak dung and brush to fuel the fire. They milk the goats, sheep and camels, and later take the animals high into the mountains to graze. Everything is done by hand: ploughing, building, sewing. There are no shortcuts. In the face of such adversity, parents too often have no choice but to keep their children home from school to help support the family.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights unequivocally states that every child has a right to education. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, governments, community leaders and humanitarian groups like CAI are working with communities to make that right a reality. But the work is slow, labour-intensive and expensive.