Why textbooks we paid for never reached Afghan schools

About 45 million books – a total value of $15.4 million, paid for by the United Nations and the aid agencies of the US and Danish governments – were scheduled to arrive before classes started in Afghanistan last March. But according to the AP, millions of those books have still not been delivered.

About 500,000 books are in sitting in shipping containers in Pakistan awaiting customs clearance by the Afghan government, says the AP, while another 20 million books are said to be sitting in a warehouse in Kabul awaiting a distribution plan.

Overall, about a third of the school books ordered for 2008 were never delivered to the provinces, the AP learned from Afghan provincial officials and Education Ministry records.

Distribution within Afghanistan, of course, is anything but easy. There are safety concerns, mind-boggling transportation problems, and, in some cases, funding for book transit is non-existent. (That's why, according to a US military liaison, there's a school in Afghanistan that currently cannot be used for classes – it's full to the brim with textbooks.)

Meanwhile, there have also been printing problems. Some of the printers contracted to do the work have either not completed it or done it so poorly that pages fall out or have been incorrectly collated into the wrong books.

The good news, however, is that where the books did arrive they were received with joy.

"Despite all the complaints,"  the AP reported, "teachers emphasize how happy they are to receive books at all. In the past, some said, there were only three books for a class of 30 or 40 students, so youngsters had to copy down the lesson."

Students in Afghanistan are thirsty for education, an Afghan Education Ministry spokesman told the AP.

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