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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 14:51 GMT
Afghan joy as schools re-open
Boys at Ghazi High School in Kabul
Bullets scar the walls of a Kabul classroom
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By the BBC's Susannah Price
In Kabul

Up to two million children have flocked back to school for the start of the New Year. Girls who were banned from education under the Taleban have been returning in large numbers - keen to restart their education as quickly as possible.

Schoolgirls in Kabul
Clutching new bags the children arrived at school
The interim Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, attended a special ceremony at the capital's Amani High School along with the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi and several ministers.

Mr Karzai made an emotional speech in which he declared they had never had a better day than this one.

Away from the formal celebrations, at Kasaba High School on the outskirts of Kabul, there was equally high excitement.

The school caters for the children of workers at a local factory.

A pupil studies in Mazar-e-Sharif
Girls were not allowed to attend school under the Taleban

Ten-year-old Trina arrived at school with her younger sister and brother - all clutching brand new bags. "I am really happy today," she said. "I used to go to school but I had to stop when the Taleban came."

Her mother Shakila, a former teacher said she had been terrified that her daughters would grow up to be illiterate.

Their school, close to Kabul airport, was repainted and repaired by members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) who are working as peacekeepers in Kabul.

They had ordered cement and other goods from the local factory when they heard about the plight of the school.

Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai said it was the best day ever

"These children are the future of Afghanistan," said Group Captain Steve Abbott of the British Royal Air Force.

"What they are taught here will hopefully stop them fighting. And the staff here could not have been more welcoming".

Aid agencies have provided this school, and thousands others with books, chalk and stationery.

Secret classes

Sixteen-year-old Ahmed Shah says the school has been transformed.

"Our school is now really good - we are really pleased they have rebuilt it and brought us notebooks, pens and all kinds of things," he said.

Teachers greet each other in Kabul
Delighted female teachers also returned to work

Afghanistan's education ministry has rehired thousands of teachers who were sacked by the Taleban - including many women who were banned from teaching.

Many of the female teachers at Kasaba school had been holding secret classes at their homes.

'Really pleased'

The headmistress of the school Jamila Shamal is back in her office.

"I never believed I would see such a day as this and I'm really pleased to see girls and boys going to school once again," she said.

A little girl receives her new school bag and pens
Some of the children do not remember ever being allowed to school

The United Nations Children's Agency, Unicef, has been campaigning over the past few weeks to persuade Afghanistan's 4.4 million children of school age to register using posters and street theatre.

Even before the Taleban fewer than one in 10 girls attended school.

Now - with the financial backing from the international community - education in Afghanistan appears set to enter a new era.

The BBC's Adam Brookes
"Afghanistan is dragging itself back into the modern world"
Unicef UK Executive Director David Bull
"We have had to rebuild an entire education system"
See also:

23 Mar 02 | South Asia
Back to school in Afghanistan
16 Mar 02 | Americas
Bush sends books to Afghanistan
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan women return to study
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan women embrace new prospects
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