Students left, and funding ran out; India’s sole Afghan refugee school is looking beyond Covid and Taliban

Due to a lack of funds, Syed Jamaluddin Afghan School in Delhi relocated from a basement to a tiny flat in October, saw over 100 kids leave, and was unable to pay teachers for ten months.

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Students left, and funding ran out; India's sole Afghan refugee school is looking beyond Covid and Taliban

The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan School, India’s only school for Afghan refugees, used to be housed in the basement of a building nestled away among a row of commercial establishments in the national capital’s Bhogal neighborhood. It was a small area, but it provided kids with a place to call home.

An extreme lack of cash, which began with the onset of the pandemic and worsened following the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban, rendered it impossible for the school administrators to pay the rent — around Rs 1.2 lakh per month — in October. They renounced the space.

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Sania Feda Taj, the school’s director, and her crew now work out of a tiny four-bedroom apartment-turned-office in Bhogal, not far from where the school was previously located.

“Because we didn’t have any money, we moved into this office in October.” Taj said, “We had to give up the basement room for the school as well.”

This year, the school was unable to pay its teachers’ wages for ten months, forcing some to sell personal assets to make ends meet. While all of the professors persisted, several students left. Only those who can afford a computer or a smartphone are able to continue their education online.

“It’s difficult to work here because of the loudness.” “This is a residence, not a workplace,” Taj explained. “Hopefully, we will be able to find a new location for the school.” Many students have already departed because they do not have phones or laptops to attend online classes. We used to have 500 students, but today we only have 375.”

The school received a “gift” from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) last week, which will allow it to continue operations “as usual.”

The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan School was founded in Lajpat Nagar in 1994 and later relocated to Bhogal in the mid-2000s. It enrolls students in grades 1-12 and employs 32 Afghan instructors.

Previously, the institution received financing from the Afghanistan Ministry of Education via the embassy in Delhi. However, due to a variety of causes, the institution has been experiencing funding challenges since 2020.

Taj stated that the first scarcity lasted six months during the epidemic in 2020, while the government of Ashraf Ghani was still in control.

From January through October of this year, the school did not receive funding for salary payment as the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate due to the quick control of the country by the Taliban amid the US troop pullout after a 20-year conflict.

“We did not get any wage payments for our teachers from January through October.” “In October, we received three months’ income, and on December 4th, we received seven months’ compensation for our instructors,” she continued.

When the school got cash to erase the 10-month backlog on December 4, Farid Mamundzay, the previous Afghan government’s ambassador to India, congratulated the MEA in a tweet for giving the school a “gift” that will allow it to continue operating “as usual.”

Taj stated that the embassy is now paying the rent for the present office, which is approximately Rs 26,000 per month, and that it is “tough for the embassy as they are short-staffed.”

The school employs 32 Afghan teachers, each of whom is paid Rs 10,000 per month. This is far less than the average wage of a Delhi government school teacher, which is approximately Rs 25,000.

When asked how teachers survived without pay for ten months, Kanishka Shahabi, the school’s deputy administrator, claimed some cut back on family costs to conserve money.

It has been doubly painful for Fareda Waheedi, who is both a teacher at the school and the parent of one of the pupils.

“Running the house has been difficult. Because rent has been owed for some time, the landlord keeps phoning and texting. “I have a high thyroid but can’t afford the necessary medications right now,” Waheedi said, adding that she had sold some of her own wedding jewelry for quick cash.

Her husband and four children live in Bhogal with her.

When asked if any teachers had departed to pursue a more stable income elsewhere, Taj responded, “Some pupils left the school owing to their inability to cope with online classes, but I assure you that not a single teacher has left.” They persevered with us despite not receiving a wage for 10 months, struggling with Covid, and watching the Taliban take over our own country.”

Belqees, Waheedi’s 17-year-old daughter and a five-year student at the institution, said she misses the classroom.

“It’s easy for me to take online classes because I have my own phone, but most of my friends have to borrow from their parents or older siblings.” I miss the classroom, especially for courses like math and science that need a lot of rough labor, because we had all the resources we needed, as well as desks and chairs to study on. “It’s incredibly difficult to study at home,” she said.

Students have been taking online classes since the pandemic began in 2020, with the exception of two or three days of finals in September. Upcoming exams will almost certainly be held online as well.

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Students left, and funding ran out; India's sole Afghan refugee school is looking beyond Covid and Taliban
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Due to a lack of funds, Syed Jamaluddin Afghan School in Delhi relocated from a basement to a tiny flat in October, saw over 100 kids leave, and was unable to pay teachers for ten months.
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THE POLICY TIMES
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