Saturday, March 28, 2009

First Day of School

When 18-year-old Raila Wafa took her seat in fifth grade class this morning, she officially became the oldest student at the Zabuli Girls' School.

"I'd like to put her in Grade 6," said school founder Razia Jan. "But we don't have a sixth grade yet because of funding." What will happen when fifth graders graduate? "We'll add one then," she says, just like they added a fifth grade class this year for all the fourth graders who graduated last year.

Raila was one of three students for whom today was the very first day of school here. For the other two students, today was their very first day of school--period.

(Majida at recess on her first day of school.)

Although eleven-year-old Majida and eight-year-old Baso had repeatedly asked to go to school, their father would never allow it. Instead, he insisted the girls stay home and work in the family's grape fields, harvesting grapes by hand when they're ripe in the summer, and removing dead leaves from the plants during the winter and spring.

But after meeting with Razia yesterday, their uncle--who is a village elder and teacher--intervened.

"My uncle came over last night and begged my father to let me and my two sisters come to school," Majida said in a quiet voice. "He finally agreed for me and my younger sister, but not my older sister. She's 17."

When both Majida and Baso failed the entrance exam (and their ages keep them from entering kindergarten), I assumed Razia would send them on their way. When she didn't, I assumed it was because their uncle is a powerful figure in the village, and she wanted to keep him happy in order to secure his support for the school.

I was wrong on both counts.

"For the first time in their lives their father is willing to let them go to school," Razia said as the girls were being led to first and third grade class. "This is their one opportunity. How could I possibly say no to that?"

No comments: