Noor Ramazan was born in Mazar-i-Sharef just at the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. His childhood spanned the savage civil war that followed and the barbaric Taliban regime. During these years he was a working street kid, earning money to help support his family and to help pay for the little education that he received. He sold bottled water, polished shoes, helped carried heavy loads for shop customers...
Twenty years later Noor is a successful businessman with his own tour-guiding company in Afghanistan, but he has never forgotten his experiences of life working on the street as a child. It has been his dream for many years to help working street children get off the streets, and the many many dangers they face there, and into a safe, supportive and high-quality educational environment.
In 2021, Noor gathered a team of local supporters to found The Noor Charitable Foundation, with the aim of building a school -The Noor School - and running an educational support project - Noor’s Nest – to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged children in Afghanistan.
Poverty and war in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries. Forty years of war have left the country's infrastructure in a very bad state, and the country now has one of the world's youngest populations. In 2013, 54.4% of the population were estimated to be under 20 years old, and the median age of the population is just 16.5 years, amongst the lowest in the world (Source: Worlddata.info). Save The Children estimated in February 2021, that 18 million Afghans were in need of life-saving support, including 9.7 million children. The bitter cold and starvation being the principle risks.
There are many internally-displaced people, fleeing the ongoing fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan Government forces. The Taliban control much of rural Afghanistan, with the notable exception of Bamyan province. At present only the major cities are "safe", including where we are based here in Mazar-i-Sharif. With this very high level of poverty, street kids are an easy recruiting target for Taliban (or other terrorist groups). They offer to pay kids way beyond what an average Afghan man can earn with honest work, and understandably, that's a very attractive offer to these kids (and even to their families).
There is no social security system in Afghanistan. The majority of people live hand-to-mouth. Very few people have a guaranteed income in the form of a salary, so life is very precarious, and depends on whatever money a person can make on a given day, to buy enough food. With no secure income for adults, there is additional pressure on children to supplement the family income by begging, selling pens or bottled water, cleaning shoes or washing cars... Working children can be as young as four of five years old.
Street kids and education
The large street kid population in Afghanistan is made up of three principle groups:
- The majority are kids from very poor families, who can't afford the "luxury" of sending their kids to school, so send their kids out to beg or work, to help support the family. In these families, the father may have abandoned his wife and children, or he may have died, be disabled, or be a drug addict...
- An unknown number of kids are caught up working for mafia-type street gangs, who make them work or beg, and then take the money they earn
- The minority are kids who are orphaned, or who receive no support from their families. They beg or work just to survive.
Noor clearly sees the link between these street kids, who have no chance to have any school education, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. His aim is to get them off the streets, into a safe and caring educational environment, and hopefully, set them (and the country) on the path to a much brighter future. Our target groups for the school are firstly the orphans, secondly the kids from very poor families. For security reasons we will unfortunately be unable to help the kids involved in mafia-type gangs.
It has to be understood, that most of the families here are not denying their kids an education for any reason other than that of absolute poverty. We are 100% committed to providing equal opportunities for girls to access education. In some communities in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas, education of girls, is still seen as a "waste of time", though school attendance rates for girls have increased dramatically here in the last twenty years.
The first project of The Noor Foundation is Noor’s Nest, a place that will provide a home and educational support to 30 working street children. The children will get three good meals a day, be accompanied to a local school, get help with all their homework, have additional classes and programs (languages, sport, art, music...), all in a family-type setting. We have already rented a large house in the Karte Wahdat area of Mazar-i-Sharef to house the project. This area is a particularly safe and peaceful part of Mazar, that only twenty years ago was actually an area of villages, outside of the city. It still has a rural feel, with flocks of goats and chickens roaming the mostly un-paved streets. There are very few cars on the roads and many, many children out playing everywhere, usually with home-made toys, especially the traditional kites.
The house features two large rooms that will serve as the children’s dormitories, (one for girls, one for boys), library/classroom, a large hall (that will serve as a classroom/dining room/ play area), staff accomodation, office, kitchen, bathrooms and toilets, two large balconies (that will serve as additional play/teaching spaces) and a yard with garden.
We plan to offer the initial places available at Noor’s Nest to orphans, providing them with a home, as well as an education. We will have to follow the correct legal processes to do this, and will officially adopt and be responsible for these children with the support of the relevant Government Departments here in Mazar. Any remaining places will be offered to street kids from poor families. Our idea here, is to offer the families an equivalent or greater sum, than the kids would earn working or begging, so that they allow their kids to attend school. Again this will be done with legally-binding agreements, between the families and the The Noor Foundation. The contracts will be drawn up and signed with the support of local authorities. Obviously, this is going to involve a major outreach program, with a lot of discussions with families to gain their confidence, and their understanding, that allowing their kids to be educated, will ultimately be of great benefit to the family.
Our goal is to support and accompany these children right through until they graduate from high school and then on through university, if that is their chosen path.
A day at the Nest
The children’s day will start early, at around 6am, with exercise and an inspirational talk from our Project Director, Elias. After a good breakfast, the boys will get ready for school, with the teaching staff checking they have all done their homework. They will be escorted to the nearby government school for their morning of classes. Meanwhile, the cook is preparing lunch and the housekeeper starts on her cleaning rounds. During the morning, the girls will be getting help with the previous day’s homework, having extra classes, with the chance to spend time in the Nest library. There will be organised sports activities, such as volleyball, on a sports field near the Nest.
The boys will return for lunch and after the meal, and time for a nap, the girls will head to school (girls and boys generally attend school at seperate times in Afghanistan). The boys will now have their homework help, extra classes and sport sessions. At around 6pm the girls will return from school and all the children and resident staff will eat dinner together. Afterwards there will be time for some cultural activities, play, perhaps a movie, before bed at around 9pm. The resident housekeeper will be on duty overnight, in case the children need anything, along with the other resident staff. The Nest will be watched over 24 hours a day by two guards, who will live in their quarters out in the yard.
Where we are based
The Noor Foundation is based in Mazar-i-Sharef in Balkh Province in the north west of Afghanistan. Mazar is best known for it’s beautiful “Blue Mosque” (actually the Shrine of the Prophet Ali), one of the most important sacred sites in the Islamic world. The city of around one million inhabitants is set in a vast arid plain against the backdrop of the Koh-e Alburz mountains. In ancient times this area was home to the legendary city of Balkh (Bactria) and was a fertile oasis, watered by the rivers flowing out of the nearby mountains. The population has greatly increased over the last twenty years, with many internally-displaced people arriving here, fleeing the ongoing conflict that continues to ravage much of the country.
In spite of the difficult and dangerous security situation in much of Afghanistan, Mazar has remained a mostly peaceful place since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. If you came to visit our office at Noor’s Nest in the Karte Wahdat district of Mazar, the sounds you will hear are maybe not what you might expect: birds calling, children playing, sheep bleating, street vendors calling out to attract customers... and the five daily calls to prayer at the local mosques. It is an extremely peaceful place, full of the sounds of traditional life in Afghanistan, where cars and machines rarely feature.
The Noor School
The second project of The Noor Foundation will be The Noor School. We are planning to build a school for 200 children, with priority given to working street children, who will be able to attend for free, and a limited number of fee-paying places available to children from the city’s small middle class. These fees will help enable the school to sustainably provide free places to children from the poorest families.
There are two main factors that will set set this school apart from the very poorly-funded Afghan Government schools. The first is that it will be staffed my qualified teachers. You may be surprised to learn that teachers in the standard government schools here, do not need to have any training as teachers, or even, any higher education. A maths teacher, maybe someone whose only working experience is as a taxi driver, for instance. So you can imagine that the standard of education that most children receive is very poor indeed. At the Noor School, all teachers will have studied education at University and be properly qualified to teach their subject.
The second factor that will make The Noor School different, is that it will have a program of bringing international teachers to come and teach at the school. This will help expand the children’s horizons, give them opportunities to learn about life and culture in other countries, and also give them great opportunities to learn other languages from native speakers.
These two factors will make the school very interesting to those families able to afford the fee-paying places, as even private schools in Afghanistan do not offer this standard of education, with these opportunities.
We hope to start building The Noor School in 2022. We are very fortunate to already have the support for this project, of a wonderful NGO in Germany, called 264 education, who specialise in partnering with local visionaries in developing countries, to build schools.
For any support, you can use the Paypal button, or to scan the QR code below
(Do not hesitate to contact us for more details)