Over the past few years, the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) has been organising Winter Camps for children in several Afghan provinces during their winter vacation. When schools closed due to the pandemic, the Winter Camps became even more important as safe spaces where children could improve their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills and well-being.
When the pandemic hit Afghanistan in March 2020, schools were closed for 7 months. NAC’s Winter Camps, an initiative which took place in December, became even more important. NAC has organized a total of 6 Winter Camps in the past year, with roughly 463 children and 14 teachers participating.
– Through conducting Winter Camps, we would like to improve students’ knowledge and skills in subjects such as mathematics and science. We also want to raise students’ awareness about their rights in the community, and we encourage them to attend school and continue their education, says Wahida Ghroub, Head of the NAC Provincial Office in Faryab.
Safe spaces during the pandemic
The Winter Camps are designed so that children of all ages can come together, develop, and learn in safe environments. Furthermore, they provide opportunities for children to improve their grades, if needed, and to learn new knowledge and skills, including about technology.
This program is offered at the junction of two educational years, thereby acting as an educational bridge to increase the quality of students’ education.
– It is not easy for school children, especially young girls, to spend so much time at home in very conservative, traditional communities during the holidays, so we hope the Winter Camps can help support them through this experience, while giving them additional skills, says Simin Walid, NAC Senior M&E and Gender Officer, Badakhshan.
The hardships and uncertainties of the pandemic have made it even more important to maintain normality for children. Being away from their school, friends, and classmates for a long period of time can have a devastating impact on their mental health and well-being. In addition, increased domestic violence has been another damaging consequence of lockdown.
Being out of school, children can face more pressure than they otherwise would to do housework, agricultural labour, or work elsewhere outside of the family home. At the same time children are at increased riskof domestic violence, due in part to the social and economic effects of lockdown. – As a result of the implementation of this program, we expect families to continue to pay attention to their children’s education, Simin continues.
Poverty has increased significantly in Afghanistan due to the pandemic, and many families do not have the possibility of sending their children away from their communities to attend winter courses. As many of the NAC Winter Camps are organised in remote and inaccessible areas, they have become the only way for children in these areas to continue their education.
Although the camps aim to compensate for the learning time lost to school closures, that has been a huge challenge, as children lost almost an entire year of schooling due to the pandemic. “This is an irreparable catastrophe – especially for those who do not havethe opportunity to access computers, internet and mass media at home”, Simin continues.
Teaching the teachers
A challenge faced across the country is a lack of qualified schoolteachers, especially in subjects such as mathematics and English. The Winter Camp teachers gain skills through developing and implementing comprehensive and unique lesson plans, and learn new teaching methods and techniques, which they can apply in the coming school year. In addition to the teachers, the District Education Departments (DEDs) also participate in the Winter Camp program, gaining knowledge and experience in the process.
– We built the capacity of the first-grade teachers of the Jaghori district schools, and increased their writing skills, knowledge of learning methods, as well as computer and technological skills. Improving the teachers’ skills has influenced the students’ learning, too, says Mehdi Hussaini, Head of NAC’s Southern Region Office, Ghazni.
The content, approach and methodology of the Winter Camp continues to be revised and adapted to fit students’ and teachers’ needs. – It is important that students and teachers learn new approaches and knowledge which will be useful for them in the coming school year and beyond. We therefore conduct pre- and post-tests to evaluate what learning has been achieved, and whether we need to revisit, or change the approach and methodology of the next program, Mehdi continues.
Based on the final observations (post-test), NAC has found positive changes in the students who participated in the winter camp classes, in term of writing skills, reading skills and teamwork. This is partly a result of the pedagogy training NAC organises for teachers in the Jaghori district. The Winter Camp program benefits from the solidarity and friendship expressed by children at the Khronengen School in Bergen. Every year the pupils and teachers, together with the NAC local committee in the city of Bergen raise funds to support the friendship-schools in Afghanistan. The funds help cover the expenses of the Winter Camps.
Raising awareness, stopping the spread
Amid the pandemic, public awareness about Covid-19 and its transmission has become a central part of NAC’s work. To this end, NAC has developed materials about Covid-19, its transmission, and ways to reduce the spread, as well as proper nutrition and other measures to help prevent outbreaks and lessen the severity when they do occur.
– We implemented Covid-19 awareness trainings at schools for teachers and management staff, which they brought back to their local communities, says Wahida.
Recently, 269 primary school children in different Afghan provinces received a new version of our Covid-19 booklet, which also included information about what to do at home during the quarantine and winter break, how to cope with and overcome stress, and how to continue their studies when schools are closed.
This COVID-19 awareness raising program was conducted in Argo and Yaftal-e-Payan districts, in Badakhshan Province, with students and teachers from 12 villages participating. The awareness raising material NAC developed and provided included booklets and brochures with relevant information.