Teaching Kabul's street children

David Foster visits the centre where the children learn to read and write.

    The children learn how to read and
    write at the Aschiana project
    In his third daily diary posting from Afghanistan, Al Jazeera's David Foster tells the story of two child beggars and the man with a big smile who helps Kabul's street children realise their dreams.

    Behind reinforced steel gates in central Kabul is the Aschiana project.

    The city's street children go there after they have finished begging or scavenging to learn how to read and write.

    Realising dreams

    Ten years ago at Aschiana, the man with a big smile took in a seven-year-old beggar boy and asked him what he wanted to be one day.

    "I want to be a pilot," said the boy.

    David Foster's Kabul Diary

    Part one: Kite 'running' in a Kabul graveyard 

    Part two: A city in intensive care 

    "That's good," said the man. "Maybe you want to travel and meet people and earn a big salary?"

    "No," said the boy. "I want to fly a plane and drop bombs. I want to kill the man who dropped bombs on my village and killed my father."

    "Go to class," said the man. "And come back in two months. Tell me then what you want to be."

    The beggar boy did as he was told and after a while stood in front of the man again.

    "What do you want to be," asked the man?

    "I want to be a teacher," said the boy.

    The street children come to the centre
    after they finish begging or scavenging

    "No," said the man. "You must be a pilot if that is what you want to be. But don't drop bombs. Just realise your dream."

    The beggar boy went on to finish school at 17 -   rare in a country where so few ever go to school.

    No one knows if he is a teacher or a pilot. But he has an education and he has a chance.

    A new approach

    One day, though, the man didn't feel like smiling any more.

    He had been jailed three times under the Taliban. He was tired and told a friend as they ate at a restaurant that he was quitting.

    As they talked, the man with no smile wondered why they were getting special attention from a young waiter.

    "Don't you recognise me," he asked? "I was one of your students at Aschiana. Now I am finishing my studies, learning computers and earning money. I am not a beggar any more."

    The man's friend asked him if he still wanted to quit.

    The project can only help less than one
    in ten of Kabul's street children

    Mohamed Yousef has his big smile back.

    The Aschiana project in Kabul helps less than one in ten of the city's street children. But it does offer those there something they can't find anywhere else.

    When they finish class they may go back to begging to support their families, but they do so knowing that tomorrow will bring more knowledge and with it perhaps a way out.

    Translated from Dari, Aschiana means nest. They describe it as "Afghanistan's Children - A New Approach".

    We saw the children learning, laughing, drawing, playing football. In the case of the older ones, they can train to be a plumber, electrician or carpenter.

    The man with a big smile told me these stories just as we were leaving. Outside the big, metal gates was an old man, begging.

    His life may end that way, but for the youngsters at Aschiana, life could be just beginning.


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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