KABUL -- A private education centre has been providing free learning opportunities for over 2,000 girls in Kabul for almost a year.
The centre was founded two years ago.
Ekhlas Education Centre offers educational opportunities for girls who have been deprived of their right to study in Afghanistan, said Hasib Malyar, director of the centre.
The centre is "providing free education for 2,000 girls who are prohibited from continuing their schooling", he said. "Our goal is to support Afghan girls' education."
"While Afghans' economic condition started to deteriorate following last year's political developments in Afghanistan, schools for girls beyond sixth grade were also closed."
"Since I was previously supporting youth education in collaboration with my family and friends, I decided to offer the opportunity for girls beyond grade six to return to school and continue their education," Malyar said.
"There are 16 teachers, 10 of whom are girls and women, who work at the centre. They teach school curriculum, Kankor [university entrance exam] preparation, English language, the holy Koran and computer literacy," said Malyar.
"I have rented two buildings in the Kart-e-Naw and Macrorayan neighbourhoods, and am paying 50,000 AFN [$581] in monthly rent for each out of my pocket," he said, adding that students are studying full time at both centres.
"So far, a number of friends residing abroad have contributed funds for purchasing books, and my father has rented out his personal apartment for 60,000 AFN [$698] monthly so that I can use that income to meet the daily expenses of the education centre," he said.
"My father and friends are likely to continue providing support to my education centre for the next three months," he said. "The demand is growing for me to establish centres in other parts of Kabul and provide free education."
"Because people are poor and cannot afford to pay, I urge donors and relief organisations to extend their support and provide me with financial assistance," Malyar said.
Education a basic human, Islamic right
Schoolgirls expressed gratitude for the establishment of the free education centres, saying education is a basic human and Islamic right.
"I was in grade 11 when the schools closed for girls beyond grade six," said Lima Ibrahimi, 16, who now studies at Ekhlas. "I was deprived of learning for several months, and while staying at home I suffered psychological problems."
"Fortunately, it has been eight months since I started my classes for free," she said. "I am studying school subjects and take part in classes to prepare for the Kankor. I now feel very happy and hopeful about my future."
"I welcome the establishment of an education centre like the one I am attending," she added.
Marzia Asghari, 15, another student at the centre, said she started attending classes at the centre six months ago.
"I thank those who helped establish the centre," she said.
"I urge the international community to persuade those who have closed schools and deprived girls of their right to education to reopen schools."
Masuda Maliki, a ninth grader, also started studying at the centre six months ago.
"It has been a year and a half since I and millions of other girl students above sixth grade have been out of school, and we do not know what our future will be like," she said.
"We have repeatedly heard promises that schools will reopen, but unfortunately, no practical step has been taken to deliver on the promise," she said.
"Education is a human and Islamic right of Afghan women and girls," Masuda said. "Furthermore, Islam has obligated men and women to seek education. No one can violate girls' and women's human and Islamic right to education."
No limitations for girls' progress
"Closing schools for girls has no precedent in any religion or belief," said Sheikh Jaffar Sadiqi, a religious scholar in Kabul.
"Islam does not envision any limitations for girls' and women's education," he said. "There are no verses in the holy Koran or Hadith from the Prophet Mohammad that say only men can seek education and knowledge."
"Women and men have equal rights to education," said Sadiqi.
Qais Azizi has been working as a teacher at various learning centres for the past 10 years and is now volunteering at Ekhlas.
"It has now been almost one year since I started ... teaching English to girls for two hours daily in the centre," he said.
"With support from the international community, Afghans made great progress and achieved historical gains in many areas including education for 20 years."
"We call on the international community to continue its support of the Afghan people and spare no efforts in reopening girls' schools," Azizi said. "It should not let the two-decade-long success of Afghan girls and women disappear and shouldn't let them go backward."
"Today, I would have been in my first year at the university if schools had not been closed. I would have achieved my dreams," Marwa Sadat, 18, a student at the centre, said.
"I urge the international community to support Afghan girls and women as it did for 20 years," she said. "It should stop those who are determined to keep Afghan girls and women in ignorance and darkness."