An Essay by Sharifa Ahmadi
My journey to becoming a teacher begins 10 years ago when I was living in a small village named Sia Darah in the Yakawlang district of Bamyan Province. It was winter and very cold. I had recently graduated from high school and knew I wanted to teach so I volunteered at the mosque in the village. I taught students in grade seven through twelve all day in mathematics, physics, chemistry and English. It was my first experience of teaching and I really enjoyed it and did my best to teach the students well.
About a year later, I was admitted to Bamyan University in 2010 after passing the important Kankor exam, which allows Afghan students to attend public universities. I wanted to travel and attend Bamyan University in the central part of the province to obtain my bachelor’s degree. But my family had financial difficulties. My father wanted me to continue my education but there was not enough money to send me to a faraway place and still have money for the rest of the family. “I wish I could support you my beautiful daughter,” my father said. Because of my strong desire to study, I told him that I would find a job so I could continue my education. My loving father borrowed 1000 Afs from neighbors. Thus my older sister and I were able to travel almost 100 miles from our rural village to Bamyan University. I was so excited to begin my studies at the university. But I had worries too. What if I could not find a job? What if there was not enough money.
When we arrived, we had to find the girls’ dormitory, which was two hours from the university. Of course then we had to go to the university to register, which I did in the mathematics department. Almost immediately I started looking for a job by knocking on the doors of INGO, NGO and governmental offices. But lack of work experience and my age made this search hard. Early each morning I left the dormitory and walked around with my CV asking for jobs. My feet became filled with blisters and sores at the end of a long day of looking. This search continued for almost a month. I succeeded in finally getting a job as a literacy teacher for three months and the office was a 15-minute walk from the university, which was better for my feet!
How very happy I was now that I could support my sister and my family as well. But the happiness was followed by tears due to difficulties in getting to work on time. The transportation from the dormitory got me to the university at 8 a.m., which is when I was supposed to be at work. I ran to the office and usually was just a few minutes late. The manager was unhappy and blamed me and asked me to leave the job, the job that I so badly needed. After three months and much struggle, I was finally paid, but only 5000 Afs. Still, this was my first wage and it brought happiness into my heart! I returned to my dormitory and gave the salary to my older sister, who sent 2000 Afs back to home and kept 3000 Afs with us. Next day we went to bazar for shop for notebooks, books, and pens. I was proud of my hard work.
Two days later I got a call from a teacher at Sayed Abad high school, which is in the center of Bamyan and near the university. She asked me to teach biology in her place for three months and she’d pay me her salary. Without waiting a minute I told her yes and started teaching there the next day. By doing these two jobs my sister and I could manage our expenses for our dormitory and university studies.
Day by day we continued our studies and work until it was close to winter and the university was on winter holiday for three months. My sister told me to pack because we would be returning the next day to our village. This did not make me happy. First, there were no nearby school and second everything there would be covered in snow so walking freely outside would be difficult. In addition, I wanted to learn something new. I didn’t want to be in the village and wait till next year when I could find a job easily and support my family and my sister. So I walked around the university until I saw a group of students speaking in English. As I got closer I noticed that one man seemed from another country. I learned his name and that he was the project director of an organization called JRS In Bamyan. I shared my interest in learning English and having a job with JRS. The director suggested I take a course of study called “Training of Trainers “ for three months at Bamyan University and then they could see if I would be eligible for teaching or not. This course helped me grow and become a professional teacher. An important and ideal teacher from this course guided and supported me — Mr. Roan Nazareth from Goa, India. He told me, “Sharifa you are the best teacher and you will be a JRS teacher.” Fortunately, I was provided an opportunity to teach by JRS and then was selected as a best teacher among the group. The next month, I signed a contract to work as an English teacher in the winter of 2010.
Winter with all its coldness and challenges passed. Soon it was spring and the university reopened. Students full of enthusiasms returned to Bamyan University. My sister and I met again and we too went back to our dormitory. Along with my second-year studies, I held two part time jobs as an English teacher with JRS and AWCP (Afghan Women and Children program). My days were long and full. They started at 6 a.m. with my JRS course, then at the university till noon. Then I’d walk 45 minutes to my AWCP work till 4 p.m. then walk back to the dormitory, which took more than two hours. And then I studied and prepared from 8 p.m. until sometimes 1 or 2 in the morning. My hard work resulted in first rank in my class at the university. This was a time of challenges too, which might be hard for some to understand. Even remembering those days sometimes makes me cry and I can’t stop my tears.
However, I have learned and grown so much across these years of work and study. Now, I have my master’s degree in Mathematics with financial support of JRS and myself. I was able to attend St. Joseph’s College in India. I will always be thankful for the great JRS family and members.
Importantly, I am near my family and my students at JRS. My family moved from the village to Bamyan, which makes me so happy. I support them by educating them so they will not have to experience what I experienced. That is why I journey in the early morning when people are sleeping and then home when it’s dark. I am traveling to teach, to do what I love. I know my life and theirs will be better. I am sure one day I will overcome difficulties and receive what I desire.
About the Author: Sharifa Ahmadi is from Bamyan, Afghanistan and has worked as a teacher for Jesuit Refugee Services. She recently graduated with her MS in Mathematics from a university in India. She wants to raise her voice through her writing on behalf of women who live in many difficult places.