School days start for Afghan girls after 3-year break

Sunday, December 23, 2001

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- The news was broadcast on television and radio. Mullahs announced it in the mosques. Teachers even went door to door to spread the word personally.

School is back in session for the girls of Mazar-e-Sharif.

More than three years after the Taliban banned female education, schools for girls in this northern Afghan city reopened Saturday to an almost euphoric reception.

Dozens of girls, many of them formal students for the first time in their young lives, fidgeted on cracked wooden benches during an assembly in the shattered remains of the Fatima Balkhi school, which serves students of all ages.

There were no chairs, no desks, no notebooks, no pens. But the students must come every day -- no excuses -- math teacher Sahira Kholmi told the smiling girls.

When the hard-line Taliban took control of the city in 1998, they banned education for women under their harsh interpretation of Islam and forced the closure of Fatima Balkhi.

Then, as if seeking to ensure the 80-year-old school would never reopen, they methodically gutted it.

But learning did not disappear from Mazar-e-Sharif. It simply went underground.

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