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Building schools in Afghanistan
Outdoor school in Afghanistan
Ramon Mohamed visited 30 schools on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border

Most people's knowledge of Afghanistan is based on what we hear in the news... British soldiers killed in the conflict and video terror threats from the Taliban.

But a teacher from Sheffield has been to Afghanistan to see for himself what ordinary life is like there.

Ramon Mohamed, 49, from Broomhill spent three months in 2009 visiting schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He has now taken steps to build a new school in one of the poorest areas of the war-torn country.

Ramon Mahamad in Jalalabad
Ramon Mohamed spent three months visiting schools around Jalalabad on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border

He is being helped by architects from Sheffield University who have experience of worldwide educational projects.

They will send resources, teaching aids, educational games and questionnaires to schools in the war-torn area of Jalalabad on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the findings will form the basis of a new school.

During his trip to Afghanistan, Ramon was moved by the children's desires to learn despite their lack of educational resources. He says he could not ignore the need for better schools in the country:

"The children were so passionate, despite sitting outside in the rain with the sound of bombs and shooting in the distance. They are just desperate for a building and I'm now looking for experts and volunteers to help support and sustain this project," he said.

Ramon's background

An Afghan PE lesson involving children walking on their hands

Ramon was born in Sheffield in 1960. His father had come from Pakistan to find work in Sheffield's steelworks, and his English mother raised eight children and worked at Bassett's Sweet Factory.

Ramon worked on building sites after leaving school but when he lost his job during the 1984 Miners Strike, he went back to college and got a place at the University of Hull to study Politics and Sociology. His studies taught him about Middle Eastern and Indian politics.

Ramon visited Pakistan for the first time in 1989 to immerse himself in the culture of his father's homeland. He travelled around Karachi, Lahore and the Swat Valley.

When he returned to England Ramon became a teacher, working in London until 2006 when he came back to Sheffield to teach. The Afghanistan conflict was unfolding and Pakistan was being linked with the 'war on terror.'

Parachute games
Ramon took a parachute and sports equipment to the schools to play group games with the children

This triggered in Ramon an urge to explore the parts of Afghanistan that his father's parents had come from. He developed an interest in Afghan schooling and was asked by the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan to write reports about schools, educational resources and the curriculum in the country.

Afghani schools are typically open for three hours a day. The children who attend spend the rest of the day working in the fields or in the home, but many children do not go to school at all.

For three months in 2009 Ramon visited over 30 schools and met over 1000 children, plus many dedicated teachers and community leaders.

Afghanistan outdoor school
Ramon Mohamed teaches children at an outdoor school in Afghanistan

"Apparently the school children are the lucky ones - many in rural areas don't go to school," says Ramon. "To qualify as a primary teacher you need only to have attended school yourself. Teachers are poorly-paid and many of them work in government city schools in the morning and travel to rural areas in the afternoon to supplement their meagre income.

"I thought I'd mentally prepared myself for the trip but I was shocked by the poverty. The schools were on barren, dusty earth. The children sat on thin straw matting and the classrooms were made of recycled wood, a straw roof and one small side wall made from stones taken from the hillside."

"In some of the very remote, rural areas I remember thinking that no one could exist out here, let alone be able to build a school. It all looked so inhospitable but a small school was on the horizon and small stone houses were scattered across the landscape. In another place we travelled for four hours across barren land with no road system, following dried river beds and cart tracks to get to the school.

Outdoor Afghan school
Many of the lessons take place outside with the children sitting on straw mats or on the bare earth

"One day a column of Chinook helicopters flew low over the school drowning out the voices of the children and the teachers. I couldn't help but think that if more resources were allocated to building schools, you could build people and build a nation in Afghanistan. Instead children's voices are drowned out by the machinery of war. Another generation is lost to whoever it is that offers them a way forward, whether the Taliban or similar. No war machine will ever stop this cycle."

Some Afghani schools are held entirely outside without protection from the elements. One thing that struck Ramon about the children, teachers and communities was their passion for a decent education.

"Children spoke to me of the same educational rights that we in the west take for granted. They said they enjoyed coming to school but wished they had a building to protect them from the hot sun, rain and snow.

Afghan school and teaching materials
Schools in Afghanistan are often mud huts, and resources are minimal

"Teachers were desperate to have an adequate school building, resources, and a teacher training college. Community leaders spoke of their wish to send children to school. I have nothing but admiration for all of them working and living in such brutal conditions."

The Afghanistan schools project is still in its early stages and more funding and voluntary help will be needed to actually build the school.

Ramon plans to show more photographs from his trip to Afghanistan at Sheffield City Library.

For more information about the Afghanistan schools project, visit Ramon's website.

Afghan school on a hillside
Many Afghan schools are outdoors or in makeshift shelters on barren, dusty earth

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