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Paul Workman: A girls’ school in Afghanistan that went silent under the Taliban

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Paul Workman: A girls’ school in Afghanistan that went silent under the Taliban

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — There is a plaque on the grounds of Zarghona Girls’ School in Kabul. It reads, in part, “so that freedom of thought may always flourish”.

The school is empty now. Benches and desks accumulate dust. It has been empty since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

Previously, 8,500 girls of all ages came to their classrooms in three shifts a day. Zarghona is the most famous girls’ school in the country. It dates back to the time of the last Afghan shah.

The words “If you try, you can fly” are scrawled on a classroom door. A lesson in English, and life, at the same time.

Series of photos of the top students from year to year adorn the walls. They are dressed in white scarves and look happy. That was then. Now it’s a different world.

The Taliban have hinted, but never officially stated, that older girls will be able to resume classes in March, after the winter vacation period.

I asked the director, in a room that resounds with the lack of children’s voices, if she believed it. This is not an easy question for a woman who a few minutes earlier told me that girls have a right to education.

“The Taliban must come up with a plan for girls to study,” she said. We hope these are the words she keeps repeating. Hope is far from certainty.

The school had 234 teachers. All the women. All now out of work.

Hakimullah, the caretaker, lives at the school with his family and takes care of it. He points to the community square, the fruit trees and the balcony where the director stands to make announcements. He calls the wandering pet heron.

Her own 13-year-old daughter could fall victim to the latest Taliban education decrees.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “All the teachers have worked hard to make it a good school. It is their success.


In a hard-covered sidewalk square on the other side of Kabul, Hadia Ahmadi watches dirty shoes pass in front of her and remain dirty. His shoeshine business is just one step away from begging.

She has an impressive array of polishes and brushes, and wears dark glasses against the glare of the sun. Afghanistan is poor. Most of his hours outside in the cold are without shoes.

“I had no other choice, so I decided to shine shoes,” she told me. “Our savings were finished. For several days we were all hungry and had nothing to eat.

His real job, in a happier life, was to teach in a school. That was before the Taliban sent all female teachers home and reduced a proud woman to a lowly, nearly penniless existence.

“I loved my job,” she says. “I was teaching the language and I loved it. I miss my job.

She told me that some days she makes so little money, she goes home completely desperate

“I’m going home. I’m crying. It’s so sad for me.

Paul Workman: A girls’ school in Afghanistan that went silent under the Taliban

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