KULYAB -- Welcome to Shuroobod, a poverty-stricken district where villages are constructed of mud and straw and where people eke out a living with a few livestock and a vegetable garden. The other main feature in this valley along the border with Afghanistan is the illegal cross-border narcotics trade.
The sole public building in the villages of Shuroobod is the school, invariably a rectangular concrete block housing Grades 1 to 11. With no markets or business enterprises in these villages, the school is the heart of village activity, a hive of noisy, energetic children with their whole future before them.
In the village of Kisht, a stone’s throw from the Panj River which marks the border with Afghanistan, school principal Murodali Odinaev is only too aware of the very limited opportunities for young people.
“Last year, eight girls graduated from Grade 11. Out of the eight, seven are married. Of the 11 boys who graduated, four went to university and three went to technical college,” Odinaev told a group of visitors from WFP.
“But even those eight girls are an advance over previous years,” he added. “Before, almost all the girls left after Grade 9, when their parents could legally take them out of school and keep them at home to work.”
Odinaev’s school receives WFP food for the children in Grades 1 to 4 – when enrolment and attendance are near perfect, he notes, thanks in large part to the WFP commodities which are cooked into a hearty split pea soup accompanied by freshly baked bread. It is in the higher secondary grades where the girls’ dropout rate rises because of cultural and economic traditions.
Both Odinaev and the village head, Kurbon Sharipov, applaud WFP’s new school feeding plan for Tajikistan, under which the organization will give 40,000 girls a “take-home ration” of wheat flour, vegetable oil and salt if they achieve 80% attendance in the upper grades. The ration motivates the parents to keep their daughters in school where they can acquire a larger arsenal of learning for their entry into the adult world.
First girl to university
“In the history of this village, none of the girls has gone to university,” Sharipov exclaimed. “Someone must be the pioneer!”
The closest any woman has got to post-secondary school is Khatichamo Saidalieva, who took a basic computer course after her marriage and became the school’s computer teacher. But with electricity rationing during the day, she is unable to turn the computer on.
Parvina Fathulloeva, a member of the Kisht Parent-Teacher Association, tried several times to go to university. She succeeded in graduating from Grade 11 and applied several times to medical school, but with her parents refusing to give her financial backing, she failed to maneuver her way in. With two daughters in Grades 3 and 5, she is keeping her eye now on their future.
“My daughters like school very much,” said Parvina. “I often ask the teachers about them, are they doing well, are they behaving? Because it is my dream that they go on to university.”