AFCECO in Taliban Controlled Afghanistan
On August 15, 2021, Kabul fell to the Taliban. The doors of Mehan, the beloved home of so many AFCECO children over the past 15 years, were closed. Education stopped. Dreams ended. Hope faded. But with the help of former AFCECO children, AFCECO staff and sponsors, AFCECO continued. Though changed, AFCECO remains a place dedicated to the education and care of Afghan children of all ethnicities.
Throughout its operations AFCECO was targeted by extremists who did not believe girls should be educated or enjoy the many freedoms that their males’ counterparts did. The fundamentalists also wanted to limit access to music and liberal art studies. Despite this, AFCECO was able to operate as an orphanage focused on education for all Afghans. Once the Taliban came to power, management knew the work of AFCECO could not continue in such a visible manner. The large orphanage was replaced by safe houses that would not raise suspicion of the neighbors or the Taliban. Each house is home to eight to ten children and house parents from the same region in Afghanistan, so it appears to be an ordinary home for an extended family. Neighbors are told that the children are cousins to help ensure that the house is not reported to the Taliban.
Now, fifteen months after the fall of Kabul, seven safe houses have been established creating spaces for peace, nurturing and strength in a world where freedoms have disappeared. Six safe houses are located in Kabul, Afghanistan and one in Islamabad, Pakistan for AFCECO individuals applying for visas to the United States. The safehouses are run by former AFCECO graduates and staff who have provided a safe haven for over 80 children, feeding them, clothing them, protecting them from the Taliban and taking care of both their physical and mental health.
Despite tremendous personal risks the house parents have continued AFCECO’s focus on education. When schools were shut down classes were conducted in secret at the safe houses. Some were led by the house parents and others by Dari female teachers that were not allowed to work. Math and Science classes were taught by an AFCECO graduate. Remote English classes with teachers from around the world were started.
Today all children in grades one through nine are enrolled in covert private schools including girls over the age of 12 who are not allowed by the Taliban to attend schools. As their English improved, remote classes in Art, Science, Math and Current Issues were added to the schedule.
Older children are preparing for university entrance exams by attending Kankor prep classes. A scholarship program has been established to pay tuition and living expenses for AFCECO graduates so they can continue their higher education. This program is led by a woman that grew up in AFCECO and was a member of the AFCECO management team.
While working to manage the safe houses and educational programs, AFCECO has helped high risk individuals evacuate from Afghanistan and resettle in other countries. Today AFCECO graduates are living in eight different countries, continuing to shed light on the plight of their fellow Afghans, teaching English to fellow evacuees and working on AFCECO efforts from afar.
When AFCECO was officially established in 2008, its founder Andeisha Farid thought that if Afghan children could be educated to embrace equality and empower them with a sense of security they might give back to their country. AFCECO raised a generation of children who became teachers, midwives, engineers, doctors, and leaders. Though their world has been upended, AFCECO graduates continue to give back to their country. With their help, AFCECO continues to focus on raising another generation of educated Afghans who respect the gift of education and understand the responsibilities and value of freedom.
To learn more about the challenges faced and courage shown by the house parents and the children, read their stories in the links provided.