Harnessing the energy and talents of youth, "Teen Teach" is a unique public diplomacy program run by our embassy in Kabul that trains Afghan teenagers to teach English. It began last summer and reached more than a thousand young learners in Afghanistan during that time period.
"'Teen Teach' gives these bright, enthusiastic teenagers the opportunity to pass along their knowledge of English to younger children," Ambassador David Pearce says in a documentary that U.S. Embassy Kabul put together to spotlight the program. "The program not only provides these children with an education that stresses the rich cultural heritage of Afghanistan, but it also helps to open their eyes to the wider world, and -- in so doing -- puts them in a position to realize their dreams of a better life."
Twenty-four Nangarhar teenagers, 12 males and 12 females, were selected and trained as teachers last May. "We learned a lot in this short period of training," said Nadia at the end of the training. "I wish our teachers knew about this new methodology of teaching." Following their training, each of the 24 "Teen Teachers" selected 60 students -- 20 per class. The demand, however, was so high that they asked to add five more students to each class, raising the total number of students to 1,800.
Following the teachers was a crew of five Afghan teens who filmed classes and captured more than 24 hours of raw footage. At the same time, on the other side of the ocean, Los Angeles students studying film at Grover Cleveland High were getting ready to compile the photos and films to create a "Teen Teach" documentary. In preparation, the Los Angeles students learned about Afghan culture and history, visited an Afghan family, ate at an Afghan restaurant, and created scale models of Afghan classrooms -- one historical, and one modern-day.
"They've done a complete 180 degree turn to seeing the people from that region as friends," wrote their film teacher, Ms. Evelyn Seubert. "Seventy percent of my students are from poverty level homes. But they get free meals here at school; and free education. The fact that children in Afghanistan fight to get into school has not been lost on them. The fact that they have had to fear to go to school; or been denied that privilege, has not been lost on them. The fact that so many have lost limbs, family members, lives -- has not been lost on them."
The Los Angeles teens worked endless hours to edit, mix, and match scenes. "Their hearts have truly been opened," wrote Ms. Seubert about her students, "and there is nothing like spending a lot of time editing the images of those precious young children and earnest teen teachers to get to the teenage soul!" The final cut of "Teen Teach 2011" is a living document that not only highlights the challenges and successes of the Teen Teach program, but also demonstrates the strong thirst Afghan children have for learning and the critical role Afghan youth can play in shaping the destiny of their country.
Watching the video on the Internet, Nangarhar high school students commented on the film on a social network site. "Students are like flowers and candles for our country," wrote Hameed. "If these candles die, we will never achieve our purpose -- our country will never progress.""I was one of the film crew," wrote Safia, "and it was so interesting for me to film the classes in different schools. I hope that next summer the 'Teen Teach' program will start again."
The "Teen Teach" documentary can be viewed here.