In rural Pakistan, girls fight the odds to get an education
By Zeeshan Suhail
Lasbela district, Balochistan province - Tahira Rasool, 11, sits quietly in the corner of this two room makeshift school in Lasbela district, Balochistan, taking notes and listening attentively to her teacher. She’s the senior-most of the 61 students enrolled in this primary school which was formerly used as a community gathering space. The elders of Siddiq Jamote Gote village converted it into a school for the benefit of the female children of the village. Before the school existed, the young girls had no opportunity for education. The nearest school was several kilometres away, and crossing the busy road as well as commuting long distance was not an option.
Tahira suddenly radiates brilliance when she talks about the role that education plays in her life. “I believe it is critical for the prosperity of the country,” says a radiant Tahira. “In our new school, we have latrines, electricity and supportive teachers. We don’t have to worry about crossing major roadways or stray animals.” She is so enthusiastic about the benefits of education that she managed to persuade two other girls from the village to attend the UNICEF and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-supported school with her. Due to her status as the senior-most student, she also occasionally supervises the younger students attending the school.
Education as a force for girls’ empowerment, positive community change
What Tahira may not realize is the equalizing effect which the establishment of her school has on the community she lives in. A few years ago, girls from the village could not even contemplate attending school. Now they have the same opportunities which the boys of their village have. Even more importantly, she may not be able to appreciate the role which the village elders play. Four parents and the school teacher sit on the Parent Teacher School Management Committee (PTSMC), which helps the government in the efficient functioning of the school. With the participation of the PTSMC in school affairs, the community’s voice is always heard and their support is always ensured.
In Siddiq Jamote Gote, the PTSMC went a step further and is now acquiring more land to help expand the school. The project has provided them with a school development grant; they even helped raise more funds so that the building could be completed without relying heavily on external financial assistance. Tahira’s father, Ghulam Rasool, is an active member of the PTSMC and dispels the myth that men from this area do not believe in girl’s education. “Women’s education is more important than men’s because the former is the mentor for future generations,” says Mr. Ghulam Rasool. “I am the tube well operator for the village, but I hope my children become professionals and serve their country.”
Leadership, passion and ambition pave the way forward for young girls
In the nearby village of Jam Yousuf Abad, the girls’ middle school is overflowing with students and buzzing with energy. There are only four classrooms, but steeply increasing enrolment is pushing teachers and students to set up makeshift classrooms in the verandas. The Jam Yousuf Abad middle school is one of 80 such schools upgraded through this project to enrol girls in the remotest parts of Balochistan, who had no middle schooling (grades 6-8) opportunity in the past. There is good reason for such high enrolment at this school: the facility has a playground, wash rooms and beautifully decorated classrooms which reflect the commitment and love the young girls have towards their school.
This vitality and excitement is especially clear when you speak to Zahira, a 7th grade student, who travels one hour by foot to attend school. She is the president of the child club, which serves as a type of student government. Her teachers and peers are certain that her leadership and public speaking skills will take her right where she aims to go: the newsroom. Zahira is very passionate about her desire to study English at the graduate degree level and to get a job as a news anchor on a TV channel.
Education fuels hope for the future
“The nearest girls’ high school is 30 kilometres away and there is no way I can walk or commute that far on a daily basis,” laments Zahira. “At my middle school, I feel like I am amongst family. I am very anxious about what I will do once I graduate from middle school next year. I hope that the government upgrades our middle school to a high school,” she yearns. The community is even willing to give extra land so that the girls do not have to travel far to receive an education.
“Tahira and Zahira are just two examples of what community support, opportunity and passion can do for girls who yearn to be educated,” says Sanaullah Panezai, UNICEF’s Education Specialist based out of the Balochistan office. “The message is loud and clear: these girls want an education; a message which UNICEF hears loud and clear.”
Generous support from the Government of Canada
Generous support for this project was provided by CIDA. As a result, approximately 285,628 children (127,437 girls and 158,191 boys) in Balochistan have benefited from this initiative.