It took almost two hours to drive the seven kilometers between the World Bank offices to reach Kabul University. The streets were clogged with frustrated drivers performing adroit maneuvers to steer through the stop-and-go traffic.
The tree-lined paths of the university are a still and silent oasis from the raucous, dusty streets of the city center just outside. Young people walk in pairs, stop to chat or read in the winter sunshine.
I am here to meet with a group of 18 students who use a dedicated corner of the student library funded by the World Bank. Here, students can use five computers and a printer for free. But demand is high so the wait for a computer can be two to three hours at a stretch.
The girls tell me there are few other options for them. They cannot go to an internet café on their own to do their research without a male relative accompanying them. When asked how many have computers almost all hands go up. But internet access is prohibitively expensive for them and the service very slow. The World Bank corner offers them a lifeline to do their research and access materials not available in the library.
Our discussion turns to the future. The boys are evenly split on the issue. Some are adamant that they can take care of security. But others worry about security issues when the international contingents leave the country. All agree that international assistance may be necessary to keep the country stable and that the international community must adhere to its commitments.
The girls are more cautious. “No one wants the Taliban back,” one tells me. University was not possible. Another one tells me that she’s so happy that girls now have the chance to study and feels the future is bright for the women of Afghanistan as they can stand on their own feet. Security remains their primary concern.
Many of them hope for the opportunity to study abroad and wish for scholarships. They would like to share Afghanistan’s rich culture with the world.
When asked one final question about what they do for fun, several of them call out ‘Facebook .’ Some things are universal the world over whether you’re in Kabul, New Delhi, Bonn or Washington, DC.
Young people want to connect with each other and tell their stories to whomever will listen.