BETTER WITH BEN: summer school in Afghanistan

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This summer InterestEng. organized a special summer school for girls in Afghanistan still unable to attend school. We called Ben to the rescue and challenged the idea that learning can be stopped.

INTERESTENG.: Ben Franklin had to stop school after 2nd grade and work in his father’s candle shop. He taught himself to read at night gaining amazingly high levels of comprehen- sion.  A few years later he was apprenticed to his brother—a printer. There Ben learned the art of writing, printing, and the power of words. He had access to countless newspaper articles as well as books which he read long into the night. His brother was unjust and even cruel towards his little brother and so Ben ran away in his late teens and began life on his own in Philadelphia. The rest is history.
     So what can his life teach Afghan girls?
     Throughout the summer they learned to learn something from everything around them, asking questions, listening, observing, and thinking—just like Ben did. They learned to learn from the news programs they disagreed with. They learned science while helping their mothers cook. They learned to observe nature and all the lessons it has to teach us.
     Every week they were given the assignment to ask a question about something around them and find the answer to it using the internet. The results were fun and wonderful and the project is still ongoing.  Here we share just a few of things our students learned.   

Mahim: It’s no matter if we are at home! I’m learning so much!  Our thoughts don't have any limitations. I had a teacher once that always said, “If you want to learn, all the world can be your teacher.”  This project is wonderful!  For example, today I searched about the taste of water! How does it have taste and what is its taste?! And why do we feel thirsty? I found this answer:
     Healthy water doesn't have any taste or smell. It is some foreign elements in it that make it have taste. The bitterness of water is due to the presence of magnesium salts.  The taste of gas is related to iron and aluminum dissolved in water. A rotten taste is caused by dissolving organic particles in water. Some waters are sour because they are acidic and the pH level is less than 3. The taste of soap in water is a sign of a pH higher than 9.

Zahra:  I help my mother cook every day. I wanted to know why we use onions all the time. My mother said onions are very important food. You can eat them cold or cooked. They are good for your health. Then I used Google to find “fun facts about onions”.  Here is what I learned:
1)  Onions are eaten in every country in the world.  
2) People have been eating onions for thousands of years. Prehistoric cave dwellers ate wild onions. 
3) In ancient Egypt onions were a symbol for eternal life because of their rings. People worshipped them like gods!
4) The world grows more than 100 million tons of onions each year! The largest onion grower is China. China grows 27 million tons of onions every year.
5) A chemical in onions is what makes you cry when you cut them. A mist made of sulfur comes out of an onion when you cut it. Some people say if you put a piece of bread in your mouth you won't cry! My brother said if you wet the knife you won’t cry.
6) If you fry onions slowly they will be sweeter. The more you cook them, and the smaller they get, the more sweet they will be.

Asia: This week I wanted to know why we put salt in food? We put A LOT of salt in our food in Afghanistan. Our salt is white, but salt can be different colors: yellow, orange, red, mauve, blue, green, and black. 
    Salt changes the taste of food because it hides bitter flavors so you taste the food flavor more. Salt also helps sweet flavors be more strong. Salt preserves food because it makes food have less water. 
    In some places, salt was so valuable it was used for money.

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LOVE to read! This summer I read the book The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. At the end of the book, I thought something was missing. The book did not solve the real problem. The theme of this book happens again and again even today. 

    I think we should not let people become bad. We should fight the system that makes them bad. I don’t think people are really bad. It is the system that makes them bad. We need to fix the system if we want people to be better.  For example, here is an old story from my country.   

Once there was a man who visited a doctor and said he had a big problem. When he put his finger on any part of his body he felt pain. The doctor examined him and told him that he had a very small problem. His finger was broken! Problems in the world are harder to solve because we need to understand ourselves first and that can be very painful. Actually for solving a problem, understanding it is the most important part. Self-understanding can be much harder than understanding others, therefore, it is possible to be stuck in a problem for a long time. Sometimes even self-misunderstanding is possible. 

    Unless we understand and fix the real problem, the problem will not be solved. Here is an example of what I mean. How do mice come to a place? If the environment becomes dirty, naturally there will be a place for mice to thrive. Killing the mice cannot solve the problem. Attention is needed for the cause of the problem, not for the result of it. By only fighting the results each time, new results appear. (After mice come rats and snakes.) So fighting effects is a very time wasting process until the cause of the problem is discovered. But this is what we do because it is much easier to deal with mice than dirt. It is easier to blame bad people instead of a bad system of society. 

     People are good and bad according to circumstances. Different conditions cause people to become bad or grow up good people.  Most of the time people are not aware of the changes their decisions make in their lives and characters. Sometimes a hard situation can make a person do something against his or her values and will. Opportunities are also one of the things that can compel people to change. If problems are seen as opportunities, they can make us become better. 

     There should be some “system of life” to deal with hardships so they can be corrected. But many of the systems in society are manipulating systems like in the book The Count of Monte Cristo.  It is hard to think about the system as the culprit. It is easier to blame people like the Count did. It takes thinking to find the real cause of what makes people bad. 

    The Count of Monte Cristo leaves the reader with a very big question: How can we change the system so that people can be helped to live rightly?  — Eqlima

 ©InterestEng. July 2013 - April 2022 §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff photos or used with permission.  §  To contact us: