KABUL -- With Afghan families struggling with unemployment and poverty, one educator has turned to offering free school for hundreds of children.
"To ensure that children of impoverished Afghan families are not deprived of education, since December 22, I have been providing free education to almost 500 pupils -- girls and boys in the first through ninth grades," said Allahnoor Raahbar, the founder and principal of the Raahbar Private School in Kabul.
"Ten teachers teach in different shifts at this school," he said. "We also provide students with free pens and notebooks and will expand the free education programme if we get more financial resources."
Raahbar himself and his friends are providing the funding for the programme.
"Education is one of the main achievements of Afghans in the past two decades," Raahbar told Salaam Times.
"But due to unemployment, poverty, and severe economic challenges caused by recent events in the country, most Afghan families are unable to pay education-related fees, so their children cannot continue their studies."
Afghanistan is in the grip of a humanitarian disaster, with half the country threatened with food shortages, the United Nations (UN) has warned.
Fourteen million people in Afghanistan are facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"My family is facing many financial problems since my father, the only breadwinner in our family, lost his job five months ago," Nadera, 15, an eighth-grader at Raahbar Private School, told Salaam Times.
Her schooling was disrupted for a few months, but fortunately the private school gave her a chance to continue her studies for free, she said.
"I am grateful to the management of my school and urge the government, aid agencies and other private schools to assist poor families and ensure that their children, especially girls, are not deprived of education."
"My parents cannot pay the monthly fee of 600 AFN ($6.52) for my school. I could not continue my education and would have missed school for good, had it not been for the free education offered by this school," Nargis, 13, another sixth-grader, told Salaam Times.
"I am satisfied with the free lessons offered by my school, and I call on other schools to facilitate free education for poor children, too," Nargis said.
"Most families have unfortunately lost their jobs and businesses under the current circumstances in Afghanistan. Some families do not even have food to eat, while others barely manage to feed their children," Ahmad Zia, 33, a resident of Kabul, told Salaam Times.
"I have been in this business for the last 20 years, and the market has never been so bad. Sometimes I cannot earn enough to pay the shop's rent," said Zia, who manages a grocery store in the Dasht-e-Barchi area.
"While poverty is widespread and people cannot find food, they will never be able to pay for their children's education," Zia added. "It is definitely a good step by any school or university to offer free education to poor children in such a situation."
"Afghans' economic status was better in the last two decades, and there were jobs enabling families to pay for education. More than one child from each family was either attending school or university, which raised the level of education to an all-time high," Abdul Rashid, 25, an economics student at a private university in Kabul, told Salaam Times.
"Our country and people have gone backward two decades after the fall of the previous government and recent developments," Rashid said.
"We are losing economic and educational achievements, and in such conditions, free education in schools and universities will help to overcome -- to an extent -- the challenges faced by impoverished families in providing education to their children."
Rashid urged the international community to safeguard the achievements made by Afghans in the past 20 years by continuing their economic assistance to Afghanistan.