Class takes place inside a tent with no seats or desks. A washed-out blackboard stands in the corner. A square was cut in the tent to create a window overlooking mountains and a fast-flowing river.
Elham attends School Number One, in the northeast province of Badakhshan, with about 3,000 classmates. He can say, "What is your name?" and "My name is Elham," in English. He writes his name in Dari, an Afghan language, and his teacher praises his handwriting.
School Number One is a typical school in Afghanistan. There are hundreds of schools in Badakhshan and thousands in the entire country. The schools have few supplies. Fourth-graders learn from first-grade books. Many schools have been built in the past four years, but few have enough teachers, chairs, or classrooms.
At School Number One, located in the province's capital Fayzabad, boys study with girls until the seventh grade. Then, they are transferred to an all-boys school. They won't study with girls again until they reach university.
Amina Hafizi, 15, attends School Number One in the morning and teaches the Koran, the Muslim holy book, in the afternoon. She has memorized all 30 verses of the Koran's sacred text and aids her students in reading the Arabic language and memorizing it. (The Koran is written in Arabic and Muslims are encouraged to read it in its original language.)
"My favorite subjects are in religion and science. I like religious history, physics, and geometry," Amina says shyly. When asked what she wants to study in college, she says she had not thought that far ahead.
That is not surprising, since most of the students do not have the resources to study beyond 12th grade. To go to university, Amina would have to travel to the capital, Kabul, a grueling 16-hour drive through jagged mountain passes.
Slow and Steady
At School Number One, there's not enough room to house all the elementary and high school students at once. So high school classes are scheduled for four hours in the morning, and elementary school classes for four hours in the afternoon, six days a week. The students take winters off because it's too hard to trudge through the snow.
"We make the best of what we have right now," says school principal Pari Gul Darwishyar.
Today, as Elham finishes his story, it is summer. Students and teachers endure 100-degree heat in the tents. They can hear the water as it crashes on the river rocks. Only a rare breeze cools their sweat. A girl in the third grade now stands to read the story of the hare and tortoise, as her classmates repeat every word, following along in their book.