Record numbers of students are applying for admission to college. These students, many of whom have overcome extreme poverty and danger to sit in front of blackboards, represent the vanguard of a movement to restore Afghanistan’s intellectual capital.
It’s an uphill battle in a country roiled by 30 years of war. A myriad of problems remain, from a lack of supplies to a dearth of qualified instructors. However, education is an area where the potential for success is stunning, particularly given the relatively low costs involved.
For less than 15 percent of what the Pentagon spends in Afghanistan every 24 hours, it is possible to open a university, hire international professors with doctoral degrees, provide housing and security, admit close to one thousand students, and keep classes going for five years.
Take AUAF, which quietly opened its doors in Kabul in 2006. Backed by Western governments and individual donors from Afghanistan and abroad, the university has seen its own surge since its first class of just 53 students, having grown to almost 800 men and women in less than five years. AUAF recently finished two new buildings, one for faculty offices and one for student services, to keep up with demand.
Who would risk their life to attend English and business classes? Some, like Sayyed, arrived under trying circumstances. Many are refugees, returning from neighboring countries. Most have harrowing stories to tell of avoiding the Taliban. Almost all have suffered incredible hardship for the opportunity to study on this modest, five-acre campus.