|Cover of The Last Thousand, by Jeffrey E. Stern, 2016.|
|Journalist and author Jeffrey E. Stern.|
Jeffrey E. Stern’s 2016 book The Last Thousand: One School’s Promise in a Nation at War, is an examination of the Marefat School in Kabul, Afghanistan. Aziz Royesh is the founder of Marefat, and The Last Thousand is his story as well as the school’s. Royesh started Marefat in order to offer a more liberal education experience, and he has sought to produce life-long learners, people who will continue to be students long after their formal education is over. Royesh's task is much more difficult because he is a Hazara, a minority ethnic group that has long been oppressed in Afghanistan. The roadblocks to a Hazara starting a liberal school for other Hazaras were numerous, and Marefat actually started in Pakistan, when Royesh was living in exile during the period of Taliban rule.
While the United States’ role in Afghanistan since the invasion of 2001 has been turbulent, it’s fascinating to see it from the perspective of the Hazaras. To them, the United States was their benefactor, and was helping to greatly improve the opportunities available to them in Afghanistan. When the United States announced that they would pull most of their troops out of Afghanistan, this set off an alarm bell for Aziz Royesh. He knew that violence toward Hazaras could increase as soon as the United States left. This becomes the main source of tension in the book, as Royesh counts down the months until his American protectors leave.
On a personal note, one of the students of Marefat profiled in The Last Thousand, Ta Manna, is currently in my World History class. (I teach at a private school in Minnesota.) Reading The Last Thousand helped me to understand more about her background, and the hardships she has suffered as she has tried to pursue an education.
The Last Thousand is a fascinating glimpse at the turbulent modern history of Afghanistan, and the staggering odds that Royesh faced to establish a thriving school in the face of much opposition. Stern has spent a lot of time with Royesh at Marefat, and this makes his book a valuable one. This is deep reporting at its finest.