In Kandahar, Girls Show Grit Behind Guarded Walls

Education is like gold — more precious than any other possession.

That's according to an 11-year-old girl named Bilqis Ehsan. She lives in Kandahar, Afghanistan. She speaks nearly fluent English. And she wants to be a doctor.

Education "shines your life," she says.

Bilqis and other girls and young women are taking classes in English and computer technology at the Afghan-Canadian Community Center in Kandahar. But it's not just for the joy of learning. They want careers.

"I am learning English because it's an international language," says Nurzia, 14. "If we become a doctor, [a] doctor needs to write prescriptions for the patient by English — not Dari or Pashto."

It would be fair to say that there is no world of girls more hidden than the world beneath the burqas of Afghanistan. The girls who risk going to school in the heartland of the Taliban could be harmed or killed.

But it would be a mistake to presume that all the women and girls underneath their burqas are somehow pitiable or frightened or even meek.

Within the walls of the school in Kandahar, protected by a tall iron gate and a guard with a gun, the burqas are gone. The girls laugh and chat — and forge the skills they'll need in future jobs.

One irony living in a war zone is that there may be more opportunities for girls who want to work when they grow up. There are jobs with the United Nations, NATO and USAID. There are also desk jobs for women who can use computers and speak English at construction companies and the cell phone giant Roshan.

But in war, every girl — along with her family — must come to terms with the possibility that some harm may come to her.

"Some months ago, a girl was killed by someone," says Tahira Sadisaidi, 20. "She was our classmate."

"We want to be brave," she says. "And we are coming to school."

A horn signals the end of the school day. The young girls tighten their head scarves, the older ones pull on their burqas. They hold their books to their chests, like a shield. And once again, disappear onto the streets of Kandahar.

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