Education carves a road out of poverty

A tent often passed for a classroom in Kabul, Afghanistan, when Rashida Keshavjee visited the dusty, war-torn city in 2005.

A tent often passed for a classroom in Kabul, Afghanistan, when Rashida Keshavjee visited the dusty, war-torn city in 2005.

Inside, up to 40 children eagerly attended school in two-hour shifts, with classes beginning as early as 5 a.m.

The only textbook was held by the teacher. A whiteboard was propped against a pile of bricks.

The contrast could not be more stark between these meagre resources and what’s enjoyed in the Yukon.

Here, high-school children perceive themselves to be hard-done by if they aren’t allowed to bring iPods to class.

There, kids count themselves lucky to be in school – especially the girls, who, until recently, had been forbidden from attending by Islamic extremists.

“They were just thirsty for knowledge and thirsty to do something,” said Keshavjee, a scholar in international development, who visited Kabul while working for the non-profit Aga Khan Development Network.

She will share her insights in Whitehorse this weekend during a workshop held by the Yukon Development Education Centre.

The workshop – which has an overarching theme of sustainability – is geared towards anyone with past experience in international development, or simply an interest in getting involved with such projects.

Keshavjee, who teaches at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, is one of the workshops’ three facilitators.

Her work in international development, focussed on working with women and children in marginalized societies, has taken her to East Africa, Madagascar, India, Pakistan and, most recently, Afghanistan.

Kabul has grown more dangerous since Keshavjee visited three and a half years ago, as the number of suicide bombings has grown.

But she believes the government-operated classrooms are key to stabilizing a society traumatized by more than 20 years of intermittent war.

Poverty breeds extremism, in her view.

“I think it all comes from insecurity and deprivation,” she said. “Education is the way to get out of that.”

The workshop will also feature Jane McRae with the International Centre for Sustainable Cities in Vancouver, as well as Bruce Downie, a Whitehorse resident who has run wilderness tourism operations in Canada’s Arctic and the wilds of southeast Africa.

He sees a “strong connection” between both places, in which traditional hunting societies are coming to grips with abrupt cultural transitions.

The event begins at the Yukon College on Friday evening, from 7 to 10 p.m., with a wine and cheese event. Opening remarks will be made by Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

A full-day workshop will be held on Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the college.

There’s a $10 registration fee.

For information, call 633-3282 or 456-4563.

Contact John Thompson at

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