Afghan Women's Writing Project

March 14, 2013

This is AS IT IS. I’m Caty Weaver.

On the show today … we tell about some a writing program for women in Afghanistan and a private school in Washington, DC, for poor African-American girls.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was founded three years ago. The goal is to change the image of women in Afghanistan. Kelly Jean Kelly reports on how Afghan women are using computer and language skills to tell their own stories.

Zahra is in her twenties. She teaches English to children who live at an orphanage. She also writes about Afghan girls’ life experiences and hopes.

American writer Naomi Benaron helps Zahra write her poems and stories. Ms. Benaron reads from one of Zahra’s poems, called “Daughter of War.”

“…I will try
I will stand for my right
I will break the silence
I will show my power
And I will bring peace
In my country once again.”

Zahra is one of about 100 writers in the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. The stories and poems are published on a website. The group also connects Afghan writers with other writers around the world who help them with their ideas and skills. American journalist and writer Marsha Hamilton founded the project in 2009. That was 10 years after her first visit to Kabul.

“It’s important for a certain kind of survival to tell your own story, to tell it out loud.”

Recently, the project moved into a building in Kabul. Now, women writers not only can meet on the Internet —
they can also meet in person.
“I feel I’m not alone. There needs to be change.”
That was Mahnaz. She joined the project three years ago. One of
her poems is called “Legitimizing Inequality.” It describes how women become victims of cultural and religious beliefs.

“They use our body, then Mock our beauty and call us weak.
We are not infidel.
We are different but equal.
We are women
Strong in our faith and ability.”

Mahnaz wants to continue writing. She dreams of writing books and becoming a novelist. In Washington, DC, the majority of African-American public school students do not complete their education. Many leave the system before they even reach high school. A private Roman Catholic school in the city is seeking a different educational experience for African-American girls.

One hundred students attend Washington Middle School for Girls. They come from poor families. Many of the girls are raised by a single parent or grandparent.

Sister Mary Bourdon opened the school 14 years ago. Private donors pay most of the costs.

The school is in a community where pregnancy rates among young women are high. Many girls may leave the school early.

Sister Mary Bourdon says her plan was for the school to intervene in young lives, pointing them toward a happier adulthood.

“One of the first things is to get the teachers who can excite them about learning. They get personal individual attention.”

Class sizes are small, giving teachers like Kelly Lockard a chance to work with students one at a time.

“If I’m able to develop that relationship with them, and if they’re able to feel comfortable with me, that helps with the intrinsic motivation, and it helps with them just relaxing and being comfortable to be able to ask whatever questions they need to ask about math or about life.”

She says this kind of atmosphere helps the girls develop a desire to learn.

A student named Makayla wishes there were more schools like hers.

“It provides you with a good education. It helps you be the best that you can be.”

Ninety percent of the students at the Washington Middle School for Girls finish high school. That compares with less than 50 percent at public schools in the city.

And that’s AS IT IS for today. I’m Caty Weaver.

You have probably heard about the dangers of driving while using a cell phone. Well, apparently, walking and talking (or texting) is also risky. June Simms tells us all about the growing problem of distracted walkers on tomorrow’s show.