Poyinda Mohammad, 9, weaves carpets. Hadi, 12, collects used metal to sell. Other children sell plastic bags or polish boots. An estimated 60,000 children face the chaotic traffic, air pollution and worries that come with working in Kabul’s streets. Perhaps a quarter of school-age children in Afghanistan work.
Some of the child laborers that I met this winter, on a three-week trip in December and January, were only 9 or 10 years old. Many children like them don’t attend school because their families need money for bread, for water.
But on Fridays, Poyinda, Hadi and about 90 other child laborers come to the Street Kids’ School in Kabul to attend co-ed literacy classes in Dari and math as well as larger group lessons that promote nonviolence and foster creativity.
The nonviolence lessons encourage the children to think about the language they use — choosing kind words instead of insults — and the lessons open discussions about wealth inequality, hunger, the environment and gun violence.
Volunteer teachers, from Kabul’s high schools and universities, lead the literacy classes with patience.
One December morning when a boy’s mind wandered off, his teacher Masuma asked, “Sahil, where are you?” The boy smiled in reply before opening his notebook to begin copying the Dari words from the board.
When the lesson turned to math, all the children volunteered. One girl recited the multiplication tables so fast, so breathlessly, it was as if she is running.
“The children are what give me energy,” Hakim told me. Hakim is the international coordinator of the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre, which runs the school.
The children’s verve and smiles were infectious.