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Central Asia Institute in Bozeman helping Afghan women pursue education as challenges mount

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Posted at 9:08 AM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 11:08:01-04

The Biden Administration’s decision to pull out American troops from Afghanistan has raised concerns regarding an array of topics, including child education access.

On the corner of Normandy and Edelweiss in Bozeman, the Central Asia Institute works day in and day out to assist local education agencies in the South and Central Asia. Founded in the late 1990s, the institute is dedicated to the promotion of education in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Alice Thomas is the executive director of the Central Asia Institute and is no stranger to handling the difficult social climates across the Atlantic.

“We have to remember the country has been at war, actually, for 40 years—that has not stopped us from doing what we do,” Thomas said.

The Taliban presence and control may be rising in the country, but there seems to be an underlying issue that has been ignored. COVID-19 has been in headlines around the world for more than a year, yet Afghanistan is heading into their third wave of mass COVID cases.

“The schools in the area that we work have been closed over the last month or so,” Thomas said.

Education in Afghanistan may be fraught, but with the pandemic forcing the existing schools to close.

Despite all the challenges, Thomas, her staff, and the donors to the Central Asia Institute have made strides toward expanding education. One woman, Sharifa, was awarded a scholarship to finish her undergraduate degree at a ‘local’ university.

Four days a week, Sharifa travels nearly one hundred and fifty miles, with her 12-year-old son as her chaperone, to attend class. When speaking with the institute, Sharifa directed some of her message toward women and girls out-of-country.

“Don’t think Afghan women are uneducated and that we don’t want to pursue our education. Even if there are security issues, we will continue our education…we are committed to our education so that we can combat the problems in our country,” Sharifa said.

Alice Thomas continues with the lack of coverage and awareness of growing issues in the Middle East, particularly surrounding education accessibility.

“Stay informed, news cycles are short, but people should continue to stay involved," Thomas said. "People should reach out to their local representative in Congress and tell them how you feel and show their support for the Afghan people. If you want any more information, we are the Central Asia Institute, and we would be more than happy to help."