The idea for the Afghan Schools Trust started with three young men from the remote northeastern province of Nuristan who had been educated as refugees in Pakistan during the 1980s Russian occupation and who, from age 11, had been trained to fight in the many real battles needed to keep their secular schools open.

In 1996 they came in contact with Robin Ade, a visiting fisherman from Scotland who, over the following few years, encouraged them in their dream of bringing education to the illiterate population of upper Nuristan and offered to provide the initial funding. The dream became reality in August 2001 when the first secular, co-educational primary school was opened with permission of the Taleban authorities. Messages were exchanged by hand between the pupils of Lumrukdesh primary school and those of Carsphairn primary school in SW Scotland.

The Trust was formed in 2003 with the agreed aim of establishing a small number of schools in a conservative rural area Bragamatal district on the Kati river 200 miles north of Jalalabad. This is a land of great river gorges, high mountains and Afghanistan's last remaining natural forest dominated by the great deodar cedars which form the raw material for Nuristans unique woodcarving tradition. The mountains are also home to most of the countrys large wild animals - snow leopard, black and brown bear, wolves and the world's largest wild sheep and goats still survive here. Nuristan is an obvious candidate for a World Heritage Site.

The local economy is based on the distinctive black cattle while goats and wheat provide the main subsistence diet. Nuristan has a peculiary egalitarian culture which does not allow for concentration of wealth; nor does it have a money economy or modern infrastructure. For these reasons, and the fact that the literacy level is under 1%, local people have little chance of financing and running schools without outside help. Security concerns make such help unlikely and Afghan Schools Trust is the only outside body has worked on a consistent basis with the 100,000 plus population of upper Nuristan.

Nuristanis are hard working and well organised and every village, including so-called extremist ones, have offered to donate land for schools. By the end of 2007 five had been completed with a total pupil role in excess of 700. While building work went on classes were held in mosques, the only community buildings. 

In 2005 the Afghan Government education minister inspected the schools, declared them to be the best in the whole northeast of the country, and offered to take over teachers pay, our main running cost. This gave us an opportunity to fund the first mother-and-child healthcare scheme in the district under the direction of doctor Zulaikha, a trained women's doctor from the area who had long wanted an opportunity to help reduce the infant mortality rate of about 50%.

In 2009 there was an escalation in political problems and, following the involvement of foreign extremists, Katigal became increasingly militarised. The schools were protected by the local Taliban and initially remained open, but in 2010 the Government became unable to transmit payment for the teachers through the war zones and this, together with the deteriorating security situation, led to the closure of most schools by 2011. From then on classes can only be held in private houses although the building of a new school in a remote village has continued.

You can find more about our newer projects in other regions of Afghanistan in our 2012 Newsletter.