Introduction:
For twenty-three years, the country of Afghanistan has been plagued by drought, occupation by another country, war, earthquakes and terrorism. All this has affected the everyday lives of the people in numerous ways. One is education—most of an entire generation was unable to attend school. More recently, girls in particular were denied education.

Without education, the chances for moving out of poverty are slight. Being denied education, for whatever reason, is being denied a basic right. Fortunately, the situation for girls and women in Afghanistan is changing. This story tells of the hope that education is bringing to one family, and to their community.

Story:
Zakira’s mother knelt in front her and adjusted her white headscarf.

“There, you are ready for this important day!” she said. She smiled her beautiful smile and Zakira could see all her love shining in her eyes.

“Your first day of school is one to remember,” her mother said, dressing four-year-old Jilla. “I will always remember my first day too.”

Zakira asked, “Tell me about it!” She loved it when her mother told her stories.

Her mother looked at her, startled. “I haven’t had it yet. Today is my first day too!”

“What do you mean?” Zakira asked.

“I’ve never been to school. All my life our country has had such great problems, I was not able to go to school. My brothers and sisters couldn’t go either. But now, that’s changing. I am going to school for the first time today, just like you!”

She took Jilla’s hand. “Let’s go!”

They stepped out into the sunshine. “Are you going to my school?” Zakira asked. “And is Jilla going to school with us too?”

“No, Jilla has her own school. First we’ll go there.”

They soon reached the house of a woman named Aziza. She was at her door, saying good-bye to her daughter, Momina.

“What a wonderful day this is!” Aziza exclaimed. “A first day for many women! Can Momina walk to school with Zakira?”

“Of course,” said Zakira’s mother.

The two girls smiled at each other. Going to school and being with a friend! What a day!

“Come in and get Jilla settled,” Aziza said. Jilla clung to her mother.

Zakira had been to this house many times, so she was surprised to see the changes. Now the front room was hung with pictures and posters for young children. There were books and toys, too. Three other little children were already playing.

“My mother is a kindergarten teacher now,” Momina said proudly. “First she took classes to learn to read, and then she took a special class to become a teacher!”

Jilla, who had left her mother’s side, was happily paging through books. Aziza wished them all a good first day.

Zakira walked with her friend and her mother. Outside a small building, they stopped. Girls were hurrying in. Zakira’s mother said, “Here we are! My school is a little way from here. Study hard, listen to your teacher, and be thankful you can go to school! I will see you at home.”

Zakira and Momina took hands and shyly went into the building. A blue rug was spread on the floor and the other girls were settling themselves on it. The teacher was a woman who looked happy to see so many students. Zakira and Momina sat down next to each other as the teacher began handing out notebooks. They smiled at each other. School had really begun!

Later that day, Zakira’s family was altogether in their home. “We started working on reading already!” Zakira said. “The teacher said learning to read is like getting a ticket to go anywhere in the world! You can learn just about anything if you can read! And at recess, I jumped rope with Monina, and we made friends with two other girls!”

Jilla hopped up from her mother’s lap. “I can sing a new song!” she said. “I can count—see? One-two-three-four! My teacher read us a story too!”

Zakira’s parents smiled at each other. “And how was your first day of school?” her father asked her mother.

“Wonderful! So wonderful! I’ve always longed to go to school! I’ve begun to learn to read too! There are so many things to learn—so much to understand! Zakira’s teacher is right. I feel like I have a ticket to see the whole world! The teacher said that many women, after completing the accelerated school, are able to begin jobs.”

“Like Momina’s mother?” Zakira asked.

“My teacher?” Jilla asked.

“Yes,” laughed their mother.

Her father said, “I don’t know what makes me happier—that our daughters can go to school, or that you finally have the chance to go too! I am very proud of all of you!”

Her mother looked at him and then at her daughters and smiled her beautiful smile. And again, Zakira saw all her love shining in her mother’s eyes.