A British-funded scheme to give computer and English classes to Afghan girls is expanding throughout Helmand province, apparently capitalising on hints of a shift in the Taliban's draconian policy on girls' education.
Colleges teaching the courses, plus skills such as tailoring and embroidery, are opening across the province this summer, in areas which only a year ago were known more for bitter fighting than education. Perhaps what is even more extraordinary is that these lessons are being held with the knowledge and acceptance of the Taliban.
Mercy Corps, the charity which runs the vocational colleges with the backing of £5 million of British money, knows from local leaders that the Taliban are fully aware of the scheme.
During their hard line Islamic government of the 1990s, Taliban leaders were notorious for forbidding girls' education. But after lengthy deliberation within their ranks, they have raised no objection to these particular classes, staff have been told.
The Afghan government has already claimed that the insurgents have dropped their opposition to female education, however the Taliban position remains unclear and many doubt the fundamentalist group has mellowed. Schools continue to be attacked and closed by force in some areas. Analysts debate how much is because of ideology and how much local power struggles with the government.
"I'm not sure it's a softer stance, I think you would call it a more politically aware stance about their previous shortcomings on education," said David Haines, Mercy Corps' Afghanistan director. "That's not to say they have become wildly liberal. "I think they know that education is the will of the people. Every community we work in tells us that education is important to them." Being transparent about what the colleges are offering and using well-connected local staff have been the secrets of success so far, he said.
Benefsha, a 16-year-old, described her computer class in Lashkar Gah as "a great benefit for our future."
"Everything works by computers these days," she explained in excellent English, standing before a class of veiled girls seated at computer monitors. "Also many families don't want their daughters taught by men, so the more females learn, the more female teachers there can be."
Girls must be over 15, though many look far younger, and classes are due to spread from Lashkar Gah and Gereshk to areas like Musa Qala, Marja and perhaps even Sangin. Boys are taught too, at separate colleges, in extra skills such as wiring, motorcycle maintenance
Roughly a thousand girls already take part in classes and there are far more on the waiting list. Some of the girls' brothers and husbands still wait outside the college during lessons to escort them home and ensure impropriety is avoided.
As Nato troops leave Afghanistan and hand over fighting the insurgency to Afghan forces, education is seen by some as a bellwether for the nation's future after 2014 and developments in Helmand will be closely watched. After the repression of the Taliban era, the fact that millions of girls have been able to attend school is seen as one of the great successes of the past decade.