SERVE - Afghanistan

UNESCO/Andrew Wheeler

Afghan minority language project suceeds against the odds

Warfare, strong cultural resistance to female education and lack of a writing system for the dialect being used have failed to derail a language development project for Afghanistan’s ethnic minority, the Pashai.

The Pashai Language Development Project, which has secured one of UNESCO’s Confucius Prizes for Literacy, is a community-owned initiative which delivers meaningful literacy as well as livelihood, public health and nutrition education to around 1,000 Pashai men and women every year.

The Pashai are an ethnic minority group living in Eastern Afghanistan. Pashto is the language of politics, economics and education in the region and until the Pashai programme was initiated, Pashai adults in some areas had no access to adult education and women and girls were denied formal or non-formal education of any kind.

Particularly hard hit were women who lost their husbands in the country’s long series of wars and were left to raise their families with little or no means of securing an income.

The project was started in 1999 by the charity SERVE in response to community members’ request for an adult literacy programme. In 2006, with support from the provincial government, the project expanded to include Pashai language literacy classes for girls and to begin the process of creating a Pashai and Pashto bilingual education programme within the formal education system.

Originally all classes were in Pashto but the Pashai Language Committee has developed a Pashai orthography and learning materials which are currently being tested and revised.

Despite the country’s current conflict situation, the project has managed to maintain its emphasis on education, especially for women and girls. Participants learn to use written material in their local language and in Pashto. Orthography for Pashai has been developed and is now being tested and the project also runs an animal husbandry course in tandem with the bilingual education programme. Local community members of both sexes with limited formal education are trained as teachers for literacy classes.

The main goals of the project are that literate individuals, male and female, will make use of print literature in their own language and in Pashto to access and share ideas and information, that community members will be equipped for productive employment opportunities and that Pashai will form part of the multilingual education curriculum in government schools. 

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