Lina and Lida attend a lecture at Kabul University. (photo: Zafar Shah Rouyee)
The professor gave his lecture and the students watched as he strutted from one side of the room to the other. Only Lina and Lida were not watching the professor, they were listening intently and occasionally staring at the white board, even though there was nothing written on it.
Among the girls, Lina and Lida were unusual as they didn't wear makeup, jewelry or nail polish. Instead of note taking, they recorded the lecture.
Lina and Lida are two young blind women who study journalism at Kabul University. They graduated from the high school for the blind last year and then took and passed the entrance exam.
Lina, who is twenty years old, aims to work anchoring TV and radio programs. “I took the entrance exam specifically designed for the blind. I made it to my first choice university,” she said. “My first goal is to become self-sufficient, and serve my family and country. I want to serve people with disabilities and voice their pains.”
She knows well that she faces more hurdles than most of her classmates. “Journalism is all about pictures and this is something of a challenge for us,” she said.
Lina knows that journalism is challenging for a blind person, but she is still hopeful. Fourteen years ago, girls and women did not have the right to education or employment, but, since 2001, girls and women have more access to education and employment while people with disabilities are also gaining new opportunities.
Lina and Lida, who were both born without sight, are both freshmen at the Journalism School of Balkh University.
Like everybody else, they have to read books and articles assigned by their professor. “We buy books and articles our professors assign. With help of our family members, we turn them into recordings and listen to them,” Lina said.
Lina and Lida’s will take oral exams rather than the usual exams.
Safia Rahim, a professor at the Journalism School of Kabul University, said that Lina and Lida contribute more than their classmates. “Unlike the rest they they enthusiastically do their studies, since they picked journalism with a mission in mind,” said Ms Rahim, who teaches communication. “Lina and Lida got better grades than some of their classmates with no disability, since they pay full attention to lectures.”
Commuting to university
Lina and Lida have been friends for several years now. Both live in Khairkhana and say they are able to manage the ten-kilometer commute to Kabul University. “We will be able to find our way if we even do not have someone accompanying us. In school, we studied mobility to find our way,” said Lina.
Their success story is unusual. Blind people face major challenges in accessing education: There is no higher education institution specifically built for the blind. The Ministry of Higher Education has developed a special exam for the blind to allow them to join higher education institutions.
Safee-ullah Jalalzai, the spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, said that so far, no university or school has been built specifically for the blind in Afghanistan. “The blind who graduate from the high school for the blind can pursue their higher education, but so far, no higher education institution specifically for them has been built,” Mr. Jalalzai said.
Blindness can be a social stigma in Afghanistan, a country where people with disabilities are not respected as much as others. Shah Payrai, a teacher for seniors at the high school for the blind in Kabul, said that when they walk on streets, some people and children call them Qari1 and blind.
Shah Payrai lost her sight when she was just six-months old and a rocket hit her home in Kabul, during the Mujahidin rule. “On my way from home to school and back, children call us Qari and blind, and harass us. It hurt me so much that I stopped going to school for a while.”
Also, Abdul Rahman, another teacher at the high school for the blind who lost his eyesight to a mine explosion during the Taliban when he was thirteen-years-old, said that they do not have as many education opportunities. He was playing football at the vicinity of Kabul Airport when the explosion happened. He added, “We do not have enough books, braille, brailler and computers.”
There are no accurate statistics on the number of blind people in Afghanistan, though estimations from the World Health Organisation suggest the condition affects around 400,000 people.
“Blindness is a major problem,” Rafiqullah Qayumi, deputy project manager for Eye Project at the Ministry of Public Health said. “Statistics from the World Health Organization indicate that two percent of Afghan population is blind. There are four hundred thousand blind and one point seven million people with vision problems.”