08 May 2006
Former UN Volunteer Toshiko Kitahara has helped these girls receive education by raising funds and helping build the first all-girl school in Ragh, Badakhshan province, northeast Afghanistan. (Photo: WFP)Toshiko Kitahara of Japan, a former UN Volunteer with the World Food Programme, helped build the first all-girl school in Ragh, northeast of Afghanistan. (Photo: WFP/Jackie Dent)Badakhshan, Afghanistan:
When Toshiko Kitahara arrived in Ragh district in Badakhshan province, north-east Afghanistan, two things struck her: its natural beauty and the fact that girls did not attend school.
As a UN Volunteer with the World Food Programme (WFP), Toshiko decided to make girls’ education a priority. [She first arrived in Afghanistan in 2002 and started as a UN Volunteer in 2003.] A programme officer with WFP’s Food for Education unit in the province, the Japanese national took up her concern directly with department of education officials – and just about anyone else who would listen.
In meetings with the department, she learned that they did not have the resources to accommodate the 700 or so girls in the district and definitely no funds to construct a school. The majority of girls who were receiving an education were doing so in classrooms at boys’ schools, mosques and private homes – all scattered throughout as many as 16 different communities within the district.
With that information in hand, Toshiko started her self-driven campaign to build the first girls’ school in Ragh. Her quest for funds started in Afghanistan and crossed the globe before she arrived at enough money to have the project put in motion. She rallied friends, donors and anyone she met to contribute to the project. The Japanese Embassy in Kabul donated US $80,000 and she received $65,000 from individuals, groups, companies and organizations, raising a total of $146,000. (Toshiko is still campaigning for $35,000, the amount required to pay back all construction costs, which totalled $181,000.)
An NGO based in the province implemented the project, while WFP’s Food for Work programme allowed for the recruitment of locals to carry out the construction. The mosaic of support enabled the school to be finished by the end of 2005, just in time for the start of the 2006 school year.
"The last time I visited the project site, the girls, their parents and local authorities were excited to have a new girls’ school for the first time in Ragh,” says Toshiko. “They may not be aware of my personal commitment to the project, but to me it is not important if they know about me or not. The most important thing is that the girls have access to and receive quality education."
Nearly 90 UN Volunteers are serving in Afghanistan where they support the activities of WFP, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).