Afghan Connections: 150 Pupils Push MPs On Plight Of War-Torn Children
A debate involving 150 schoolchildren was held at the House of Commons to discuss the future of education in Afghanistan was described as a "defining moment" by the founder of the charity responsible for organising it.
Dr Sarah Fane, who established Afghan Connections in 2002 has already built and equipped 34 schools and annexes for more than 40,000 children in the war-torn country.
Speaking to the Huffington Post UK after the milestone event, she explained why she set up the charity nearly a decade ago.
"I was a medical student in Afghanistan in the Russian war and decided to go back during the Taliban rule. I saw so many places completely destroyed by the violence and I was inspired to help."
The Afghan schools are twinned with UK and European schools, as well as some as far afield as Australia. On Thursday, crowds of children representing the schools attended the landmark event in parliament. They were joined by education minister for Afghanistan Farooq Wardak and a panel of "fantastic" MPs and public figures.
"Yesterday was the most exciting triumph I've had. It was so incredibly difficult trying to make it happen - getting everyone together in the same place. It felt like such an achievement", Fane says.
"The MPs said they had 'never seen anything like it'.
"The children were all allowed to ask questions and the Afghan minister told them he was so proud of them all. He told them: 'You have shown solidarity with our Afghan children and you are going to change the world'."
There are currently 20 schools in the UK twinned with Afghan schools and the scheme has proved so popular there is now a waiting list for other schools to join up.
As head of the charity, Fane visits the region twice a year, travelling without armed security to further develop the charity's work. Last year she took two teachers with her to the war-torn country who helped train the Afghan teachers.
Pupils attending the twinned schools are encouraged to write to each other and the UK and European teachers are given a tool kit so they are fully informed about Afghanistan. Some of the schools even incorporate Afghanistan into their curriculum.
In 2001 only 5,000 girls were in education; now there are more than two million. Fane estimates there are currently 8.4 million children in school in Afghanistan but says there is still "a way to go."
"There are still about four million children not in school. By 2020, we aim to have all of those kids in education.
"Most of these children in our schools are from illiterate families and are the first generation to have an education", she adds. "It is a real privilege to be involved in such an exciting phase of Afghan history - and in education which is perhaps the most vital weapon against the country's instability and fragile future."
The organisation receives no government funding, relying solely on donations.
To find out more about their work or to donate, visit afghanconnections.org