Open-access learning, Afghanistan style


By Noorullah Shirzada


I often ride around Jalalabad city and the surrounding area on my motorbike, carrying my camera and seeing what fresh, new images I can find. I look for anything that is interesting and attractive for me.

On this day, I was heading out towards Sorkhrud district, which is perhaps 13 kilometres (eight miles) from Jalalabad. I thought I might be able to take photographs of children who do really hard jobs working in the brick factory. But instead I found these children in an open classroom.

I introduced myself to the teacher and got permission to take some photographs. The children's families move from elsewhere in Afghanistan to work at the brick factory, and there is a community living there in some rough houses built by the factory owners. Over about one hour, I took more than 20 pictures from different angles of this scene.

Perhaps the best one is when I got up on some higher ground and got a good angle down onto the children with the smoking chimney in the background.



Classe scolaire dehors

Afghan schoolchildren take lessons in an open classroom at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Nangarhar province on December 1, 2013. Afghanistan has had only rare moments of peace over the past 30 years, its education system being undermined by the Soviet invasion of 1979, a civil war in the 1990s and five years of Taliban rule. (AFP Photo /Noorullah Shirzada)


The composition of the shot is unusual, and the colour of the children's clothes is striking. One girl sitting in the front corner of the group is wearing bright orange, which is very strong. The teacher said the girls are seated at the front to encourage them to answer questions and be more involved, as otherwise they are quite shy.

Of course, under the Taliban, no girls were allowed to go to school at all.

I talked to the teacher, Maiwand, and he told me that he earns 5,000 Afghani ($92) a month. He said he walks more than seven kilometres from his home to reach his students and is also studying at the agricultural department of Nangarhar University. He attends the university in the morning, then goes to teach.

Often the children do have to work at the factory, but at this moment they were getting some basic education in reading. Actually, outdoor classrooms are not unusual in Afghanistan because proper schools are so scarce.

It is a nice image that meant my motorbike journey on that day was very worthwhile.



Petite fille au tableau

(AFP Photo / Noorullah Shirzada)

Noorullah Shirzada is a freelance photographer who works with AFP in Jalalabad, in the east of Afghanistan.

Open-access learning, Afghanistan style