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Some Schools In Afghanistan Are Back, But Only For Boys. Girls Have Been Told To Wait

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When schools reopened recently for grades seven and up in Afghanistan, it was only boys that went back to class. Taliban leaders told girls they must wait. A return to severe restrictions on girls' education is just one of the many aspects of children's welfare under the Taliban that worries Chris Nyamandi. He directs Save the Children in Afghanistan and joins us from Kabul. Welcome.

CHRIS NYAMANDI: Thank you very much.

FADEL: So the recent announcement that girls should stay home from school until further notice - has the Taliban offered any further explanation?

NYAMANDI: The explanation that we got from the Taliban is that this is just a slight delay as they are working on operating procedures for girls.

FADEL: I just wonder if you trust that they actually will eventually allow girls to access education.

NYAMANDI: What my team told me is that it is hard for them to trust what the Taliban says because they have made a number of broken promises already. However, you know, girls, for the past 20 years, there's been a huge increase of the number of girls in school. So I think it's going to be very hard for the Taliban to unroll all that progress.

FADEL: You know, how has your organization been able to operate under the Taliban? How have things changed under this new regime versus, you know, before this?

NYAMANDI: We have been able to reopen right now in Kandahar, in Kabul, in Jowzjan, which is a province in the north. We had to go through a negotiation process where we were explaining our activities. The Taliban has made it clear to us that they would like to see segregation of offices where our female staff have their own office space, and we are making those adjustments. But we have insisted that at least our female staff should be able to come to the office, and they should also be allowed to go to the field.

FADEL: You know, right now, some 10 million children depend on humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. In addition to the Taliban taking over, Afghanistan has also been beset by drought and COVID. Can we expect children to get the aid that they need as winter approaches?

NYAMANDI: People needed assistance even before the Taliban took over, and then there was the violence that happened, and hundreds of thousands of families ended up being displaced, running away from their homes because of the insecurity. And now they do not have shelter. They are living in the open, under plastic sheets. So children need assistance, but because of the donor funding that has been frozen, we do not have access to cash at this point. We are not able to withdraw money from the banking system, so it's becoming difficult to run our operations.

FADEL: Some severe restrictions that you'll have to be working under with the Taliban. Do they seem motivated and willing to compromise with you for your operations to continue and to allow the work to continue?

NYAMANDI: So we see in provinces where local Taliban officials are being flexible, but we have also seen in some provinces where they are insisting that women will not be allowed to work. And we will not be prepared for us to reopen our offices where - if our female staff cannot work simply because, as an organization that is trying to reach children, we are unable to reach children if we do not have female staff who will talk to women in the communities. So whereas at the central level, we've been receiving assurances, being told that we would like to see international organizations staying, including international staff, we are still concerned that we still see restrictions in some of the provinces.

FADEL: And if you're unable to get the supplies, the money that you need as winter approaches, what will be the situation for these about 10 million children that need help?

NYAMANDI: The situation is bleak, really. It's not uncommon in Afghanistan for children to freeze to death during the harshest of winters. And if we do not have humanitarian supplies, especially for those families that are in displacement, that are living in camps, we are going to see serious casualties, including deaths, happening.

FADEL: That's Chris Nyamandi with Save the Children in Kabul. Thank you so much for joining us.

NYAMANDI: Thank you very much for the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.