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Minnesota-based Alight hoping to help Afghan children

Alight – formerly the American Refugee Committee – is developing a program to make sure all Afghan children, both boys and girls, always have access to education.

MINNEAPOLIS — As the chaos continues in Afghanistan, one Minnesota-based organization is already stepping up to help the most vulnerable in the country: the children.

Alight – formerly the American Refugee Committee – is doing that by developing a program to make sure all children, both boys and girls, always have access to education.

“Because we believe every day is a loss, not only to a child, but to a country,” said Dr. Tariq Cheema, Alight Pakistan program director.

Last year, Cheema and his team in neighboring Pakistan launched a new education program amid the pandemic. And the outreach relied on an old-school technology: radio.

“This is no new technology. And it’s low-cost, it’s affordable. It’s available across the country,” Cheema said, adding, “So we believe that at points, it’s not always high tech, but low tech can also be high impact.”

Hosted by older children who focused on the basics – math, science and reading – Muallim Radio ended up reaching millions of children throughout Pakistan. Today, Alight believes the same program – utilizing reliable radio waves – can once again transmit education within Afghanistan.

“We have put our program together. The full plan is in place. It’s just a matter of days or weeks,” Cheema said, noting that Alight is waiting for the situation in Afghanistan to stabilize before confirming the details with the new Afghan leaders.

Alight says they need to encourage the Taliban’s cooperation – especially those within the Ministry of Education – to ensure the new leaders allow the broadcasts. And Cheema believes the broadcasts could also during a difficult transition, as the new government considers changes to how girls receive an education.

“The whole thing will be maybe how the girls go to school? What will be the uniform? Whether they have all-female teachers,” Cheema said, adding, “The beauty of this radio program that it can be mass broadcast, and that people, more kids can learn. These are kids. This is the right to have education, irrespective of their gender.”

And that opportunity to learn, Alight believes, is especially critical for everyone in Afghanistan right now.

“They have lost hope in the future. So even if any of us can transform one life, build one life, give one person hope, that is a big thing,” he said, adding, “Even as small as helping one child to learn a girl or a boy. I think that can be a significant contribution to the future of this country.”

To learn more about supporting this radio education program and other outreach, just go to Alight's website