In the cave-dweller’s community called Patokhlama, on a cliff face a few hundred yards east of the niche that once held the smaller of the two Bamiyan Buddhas, is a tiny school built partly into a cave, with a small dynamo of a teacher.
Fershat – she uses just one name – is either 14 or 15 years old, she’s not sure which. She teaches reading in the local Dari language.
American kids could identify with parts of her story, which she delivers in rapid-fire, excellent English that she learned in school and by talking with visiting English speakers. She struggles to get along with her stepmother, she enjoys helping the 28 students at her school.
Other parts wouldn’t feel familiar, like living in a cave with no heat in sometimes subzero nights, with her stepmother, unemployed father, three brothers and two sisters. The kids are constantly sick, and the adults often are, too. Her mother died, Fershat said, between coughs, from something that caused terrible headaches.
The $50 a month teaching stipend she earns from PARSA, the Afghan charity that sponsors the school, is the family’s main income. On rare days, mainly in warmer months, her father earns a dollar to two working on potato farms.
Fershat’s English skills could be valuable one day, and she pounces on any chance to use them. Her hope one day is to be an English teacher; the PARSA-funded school doesn’t have an English-language class.
“I have one goal, one dream only,” she said, “and that is to teach English to the other children one day.”