Establishment of Oruj
Oruj Learning Center (OLC), founded in 2002 by a group of four Afghan refugee women, strives to address the challenges of girls and women education in Afghanistan. After living for 18 years as refugees in Pakistan during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, Oruj’s founders put up their own money to pay for the education of 36 girls in the village of Godah, Wardak province.
Afghan women, banned from school under the Taliban regime, are slowly returning to the classroom, but much more remains to be done. According to UNICEF, 8 percent of girls and 32 percent of boys are now enrolled in primary school. Moreover, drop-out rates are alarmingly high, especially for female students in remote provinces. Although Afghanistan’s literacy rate has risen over the past few years, it still remains among the lowest in the world. Forty percent of Afghan women are married before the age of 18, with a third of these women giving birth to at least their first child before they reach 18. These social customs are considered major obstacles to educating Afghan girls.
While the education sector is slowly improving, one of the most serious challenges is the shortage of qualified teachers and, in particular, female teachers. Today in Afghanistan, only 164,890 teachers support a school-age population of 6.4 million. According to the Ministry of Education, of those 164,890 teachers, only 6,000 hold bachelor degrees, 300 hold master degrees, and the remainder have earned only high school diplomas. Due to limited human resources and tight government budget, about 11 million school-age children have no access to education.
Although the Afghanistan Millennium Development Goal is to provide education to 17.5 million children, the government has no strategy for how to achieve its goal by 2020. The most difficult of these children to reach are those who live in the remote provinces of Afghanistan – precisely the locations in which Oruj chooses to operate schools. Oruj Learning Center has built its mission and program around bringing girls education to Afghanistan’s rural regions where other NGO’s and the Ministry of Education currently do not have a presence. Despite constraints due to security and geography, Oruj has successfully served girls of all ages in Wardak and Nangarhar and Kabul provinces for the past nine years.
Its successes in the field of girls primary and secondary education and pedagogical training for teachers in rural areas of the country and created a substantial and growing need for women to access higher education, Oruj’s board supports investing in women’s higher education and, in this regard, the organization is contributing to the national plans of the country. Investment in increasing women’s access to higher education is congruent with the needs identified in Afghan National Development Strategy, Millennium Development Goal and National Education Strategy and the most recent national policy, Increasing Women’s Participation in Higher Education, produced by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Since September 2009, Oruj has had the honor of establishing and registering Afghanistan’s first women community college with the Ministry of Education in Kabul. For this community college, Oruj has reached out to girls and women who due to social, cultural, financial and even political reasons could not continue education beyond high school.
So far, 482 women and girls have been furthering their education in leadership and management and business administration skills. In September 2011, Oruj and its supporters will celebrate the graduation of 72 women skilled with leadership, management, communication, entrepreneurship, advocacy and lobbying skills. Given the appalling results of Kankor (national college entrance exam) in 2011 that left more than 75,000 young men and women deeply disappointed and with no direction to pursue higher education, Oruj believes this is the perfect time to transition the community college into a four-year liberal arts school. This will be Afghanistan’s first all-women college.