The local passion for education, especially among girls, is a reaction to the Taliban era, when it was banned, their teachers say. The fourth-grade math teacher, Joya, who is 28, didn’t begin school herself until the Taliban fell when she was 11. Until then, she couldn’t read or write, and her only schooling had been sewing class.
“I had to start from zero,” she says. “We tell them about the Taliban and what they did to us, and say, ‘You have an opportunity now; you should take it.’ They’re listening. They hear about it at home too, from their mothers and aunts.”
The area around Rustam is now free of the Taliban and little touched by violence. In other areas of the country, families are reluctant to send girls to school, especially over long distances in rural parts.
The girls at Rustam are highly motivated. In every subject except Islamic studies, nearly all the top students are girls.
“Honestly, girls are better than boys; they are more serious,” says Nasiri, the principal. “These kids all know that you can’t make a slave out of someone who is educated.”
One day, Nasiri noticed one of his students, 13-year-old Friba, hiding behind other girls during assembly because she was out of uniform. Her family was too poor to buy one. So he bought a swatch of blue cotton in the nearest bazaar. Joya, the math teacher, sewed a tunic from it, using her Taliban-era skills. Nasiri, who earns less than $200 a month, had to borrow the money to buy the cotton.