In November of 2008, three groups of men in Kandahar, Afghanistan rode by and sprayed burning acid onto the faces of about 15 young girls and female teachers in an apparent attempt to keep them from going to school.
The girls were badly burnt and scarred, one was even flown into India to treat her wounds. But I won‘t focus on that in this week‘s article.
I have a tendency to fixate on what people are doing wrong, how much I hate some people, how stupid I think others are. But when there is someone to criticize, there is usually someone to applaud as well.
Men rode by and sprayed burning acid onto the faces of 15 girls. So, avoid the criticism. What positive things can you say about this situation?
Mehmood Qaderi is the principal of Mirwais Mena, the girl‘s school where the attacks happened. Qaderi deserves a standing ovation. Four days passed and the school that housed 1,500 students remained empty. The principle requested that the students‘ parents attend a meeting to discuss the vacancies in the school, and the necessity to fill them. But the parents were really shaken by the attacks and in the next few days, only a few students came back to school.
Still, Qaderi went out of his way to make sure the girls came back to school. Not only that, he wanted them to feel safe; he contacted the local government and requested buses for the students to use, and for police to station outside the school and on the roads the students take to Mirwais Mena. In an environment where violence is used against those who dispute the old ways, Qaderi is making a bold statement by being so adamant on educating the girls.
He is quoted saying, “I explained to the parents that if you do not send your girls to school, it means you are losing and the enemies are winning.“
In recent Afghan history, women wouldn‘t get this kind of support from men, at least not openly. I commend Mr. Qaderi on his attitude not only toward education, but specifically toward women‘s education.
This kind of hero commonly goes unnoticed. Similar to Grace Lorch, the white woman who escorted the lone “Little Rock Nine“ student onto the bus on her way to a freshly integrated school in 1957, Qaderi stands up and against the norm to do what is right. It‘s a big milestone in Afghanistan‘s (recent) history to have this kind of societal progression.
Mr. Qaderi states another simple and thoughtful truth: “Education is the way to improve our society.“ Qaderi symbolizes a hopeful, new generation of native Afghans that breaks from the conservative, irrational ideologies of past governments. It‘s difficult in a peace-deprived country to find time to progress and improve the society and culture, but luckily there are people like this small town school principle to ensure that any opportunities to do so are not wasted or taken from them by fear.
Afghanistan has been in war on and off since the 1970s, from the invasion of the Soviet Union to the civil war, to the highly publicized removal of the Taliban in 2001. But quite frankly, because of the high media coverage and America‘s self-delegated responsibility to save the world, I expect that Afghanistan is forced to continue to progress like this.
Most first and second generation Afghan Americans are now old enough to be conscious of what is happening in their country, and educated enough to be able to do something about it.
I hope we can look to people like Mehmood Qaderi as examples of how to better Afghanistan and to avoid lapsing into another drawn out period of war.
SARA KOHGADAI is really proud of the direction in which her country is moving. “Thank you, 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn, infant Jesus.“ Contact her at email@example.com.