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  Kabul kids prefer Mozart to polishing shoes

Kabul kids prefer Mozart to polishing shoes

AFP | ANNE CHAON
Published : Oct 1, 2016, 7:28 am IST
Updated : Oct 1, 2016, 7:28 am IST

Short and upright in his grey suit, Wahidullah enchants his audience as his fingers dance over the piano keys.

Short and upright in his grey suit, Wahidullah enchants his audience as his fingers dance over the piano keys.

The 20-year-old used to sell chewing gum in the streets of Kabul, until he passed an audition at the Afghan National Institute of Music (Anim) and his life changed tune.

Ahmad Sarmast, the school’s founder, believes children deserve a better life than polishing shoes or selling trinkets to motorists.

At Anim, he teaches music theory and singing, English, strings or percussion, Mozart, Schubert and Afghan classics — the latter particularly helpful when it comes to pleasing their parents.

“Music still has a bad reputation in this country... People think it is forbidden in the Koran, [but] it’s a wrong interpretation,” he says from his office overlooking the courtyard playground — “the happiest place in the country”, by his reckoning.

Nearly a quarter of Afghan children from ages five to 14 work and contribute to the family income, often earning just a handful of dollars per day.

When Mr Sarmast started his programme with Afghan NGO Aschiana in 2010, 14 children including one girl joined his school. But one by one the youngsters dropped out because their family could not afford to lose their salaries, he said.

“We calculated that each child made about $1 a day in the street and we decided to compensate (them)”, he says, explaining how the school — backed by international partners — subsidised the children’s salaries in exchange for attendance.

Some 40 students sign up each year with Anim. Around half are poor, orphans or work in the streets, but all must undergo the same demanding auditions.

“At the beginning my family didn’t want me to leave because of the money,” recalls Mr Wahidullah. After school he sold chewing gum and led riders off the bus to earn up to 200 Afghanis per day (less than $3).

Arriving at the school aged 13, he began to learn the harp and harmonium, then the piano. Now a fresh graduate, he wants to beome a music teacher himself.

Since 2014, the institute has worked with Save the Children and no longer hands out money.

Location: Afghanistan, Kabol, Kabul