For decades Afghanistan has been, and continues to be, plagued by armed conflicts — with serious consequences for its population, and especially for children.
Nearly half of children in Afghanistan don’t go to school, as a result of issues like conflict, poverty, and gender discrimination. Meanwhile Afghanistan's literacy rate for people older than 15 is about 43% — 59% for men, and 29% for women.
Afghanistan was once also the home of activists Hila and Wana Limar, before, as children, the sisters fled from Kabul to Hamburg, in Germany.
Hila, 32, studied architecture and today, as chair of the board of directors, she leads the Germany-based organization Visions for Children, which aims to improve the educational opportunities of children with projects in Afghanistan and Uganda.
Wana works as an editor, DJ, and moderator, and is also involved in the organization Visions for Children on a voluntary basis.
Knowing from their own experience that education is key to a better future, Hila and Wana decided to devote their energy and time to helping children access an education.
The sisters were honored twice in 2019 for their work; winning the Edition F Award as two among "25 women who move our society with their voice"; and being named Hamburg Women of the Year.
"The awards are a confirmation that the problems and meaning of our work have been understood," Hila tells Global Citizen.
The sisters' work, alongside the work of countless other activists around the world fighting to ensure every child can access a quality education, is essential to the mission to end extreme poverty by 2030.
According to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the global poverty rate could be more than halved if everyone completed secondary school — lifting some 420 million people out of poverty. This would also reduce the number of people living in poverty by almost two-thirds in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia specifically.
Meanwhile if all adults had just two more years of schooling, it adds, it would enable nearly 60 milllion people to lift themselves out of poverty.
"We started as a voluntary student association, as a group of friends who did the organization work in their spare time — after university, on weekends, after work, in the holidays,” says Hila, who’s been an active member of the organization since 2007, and its chairperson since 2009. “We have always been intrinsically motivated to help.”
Visions for Children has been growing steadily for the last six years. The projects are getting bigger, more funding is coming in, and they are also increasing their number of staff.
"In 2018 I decided to give up my profession as an architect and join Visions for Children full-time. It was time to adapt the internal structures to the new circumstances and that meant devoting myself fully to the task," Hila says. "Since then I have been working part-time for Visions for Children, which means that I am paid for 20 hours a week, the remaining 20 to 30 hours a week I still do on a voluntary basis.”
"What I find really shocking is that 378 million children in crisis areas go to school for four years but learn nothing,” she adds. “Unfortunately, what I really mean by that is that they cannot write or read a sentence correctly, and cannot solve simple arithmetic problems."
Worldwide, 462 million children and young people of school age live in countries affected by crises, wars, or natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, armed conflicts, and health crises such as an outbreak of Ebola mean that children’s education is often interrupted, either temporarily or for the rest of their lives.
The aim of the Visions for Children organization is that every child should learn to read and write.
"Our focus is on the promotion and long-term improvement of learning conditions and the quality of education at schools in crisis and war zones,” Hila explains, of the work of Visions for Children.
Specifically, they work on making schools a place where children can learn. That sounds logical — but unfortunately it is not always the case.
Hila's experience as an architect is a big advantage for her in this area. "When I am on the construction site of one of our schools in Afghanistan or Uganda, my trained eye notices shortcomings during the final inspection.”
Together with local partners, the organization works on designs for new schools and buildings, on equipment, and on creating the necessary infrastructure.
As chairperson, Hila is also responsible for overseeing all areas, drafting the budget planning, and coordinating cooperation with external partners such as businesses, foundations, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
But, when she visits the projects in Afghanistan and Uganda, she sees the true impact of the organization’s work.
She says: "When I visit our projects, see the children and see their self-confidence and motivation growing due to new school buildings — that is the moment when I know I am doing the right thing.”