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Beyond Malala: Five stories of girls’ education in Pakistan

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Like me, you’ve probably been following the remarkable story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student targeted by the Taliban because of her efforts to promote girls’ education. On her sixteenth birthday, July 12—celebrated worldwide as “Malala Day”—a still-healing Yousafzai delivered a moving speech at the United Nations. “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world,” she said. “Education is the only solution.”

While Yousafzai’s story has become an inspiration for activists worldwide, it also illustrates the challenges still facing girls in her home country. According to UNESCO, only 65 percent of girls in Pakistan attend primary school; by secondary school, that number drops to 29 percent. There are many reasons why: crowded classes, outdated teaching methods, and poor quality, even dangerous, school buildings. Parents are reluctant to send their daughters to schools without sanitation facilities, and many view early marriage as a higher priority for their daughters than education. The catastrophic floods of 2010 also destroyed many rural schools, leaving poor families with fewer options to educate their kids.

Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam
Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam

Oxfam is working in Pakistan to ensure that all children have access to an education, particularly girls living in rural poverty. Since 2006, Oxfam’s girls’ education program has been constructing model schools, which successfully withstood the floods. Today, Oxfam and local partners are renovating schools damaged by flooding, while working with district governments to replicate this model throughout affected provinces.

Earlier this year, Oxfam’s Georgette Thomas traveled to Pakistan to meet students and teachers at a school Oxfam rebuilt in Sindh province. Read their stories in their own words below.

Shazia Bhatti, student, age 11

Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam
Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam

“The old school was small, no water, very hot, and it was not very clean – it wasn’t nice to go there … But now there is a new school there will be more space to study.  I want to learn and increase my knowledge; my father says if I study I can have a better life.

“There are lots of advantages to having an education but a lot of boys and girls cannot read or write. Girls and boys should get equal education.”

Naseeban Chandio, student, age 9

Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam
Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam

“I want to study to be a teacher because there is not a teacher in my village. Many of my friends in my village do not come as it is too far. [Her family lives about 15 minutes’ walk from the school.] … If I am not at school I have to work at home. They ask me to sew, cook or work in the fields. My mother says I have to both work (in the home) and study hard.

“I like to play with my friends, we chat a lot and tease each other, take each other’s books away. My teacher tells me off for talking!”

Hameeda Bano Bhatti, teacher

Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam
Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam

“We have a responsibility to motivate and mobilize children to come to school. It will give them respect and a good future,” said Bhatti, who teaches Sindhi, English, social studies, math and science.

“The [renovated school] will make a big difference to the girls – they can be taught separately away from boys and there is more space for different classes. They can also play and have entertainment in a safe area protected by a wall. Before the schools were open so they couldn’t play during breaks.”

Safia Bhatti, assistant teacher

Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam
Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam

“The salary [from teaching] is helping me to contribute to my family, I can buy clothes for me and my child — I have one baby who is seven months [old]. I have hopes that my daughter will get even better education than me, that she grows up and wants to be an engineer or doctor.”

Amna Khatto Brohi, student, age 9

 

Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam
Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam

“Our school was destroyed when the floods came, our studies were stopped and we moved to joined rooms. Then we got a small building but my father was afraid to send me there because it wasn’t secure. He said that boys are not good. He said that I could go back to school when a new school was built.

“I was disappointed when my father stopped me but now I am happy, they have built a new school and I am allowed to go … It is important I am being taught. I will go to school so that I will be able to teach other young girls so they have better lives.”

Join the conversation

  1.  avatarRaza Abbasi

    PUKAR WELFARE FOUNDATON has started imparting quality education to village children in Murree East, some 70 km from capital city Islamabad. We are successful in getting 23 children including 8 girls in KG class. These kids were waiting to be 6 to be able to go uphill for basic education, Now they are getting their education in RPS a newly set school by PWF. PWF supports children to start and continue education if parents can’t afford . Setting a network of such school is our mission, says President PWF Raza Abbasi in a meeting with local community at Ba-de-har a distant village in the north of famous Patriata Skyride,

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  2.  avatarRaza Abbasi

    PWF aims at streghthening the foundation of child education by stting up a network of junior school in the areas with a number of houses in isolation away from school, where children start going to school at the age of 7. This initiative of PUKAR Welfare Foundation will raise the standard of education and literacy rate of this rural belt very high within next 5 years. We encourage parents to send every child to school to make their family educated and well aware, says Fazlur-Rehman, the Chief Patron of PWF.

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  3.  avatarRaza Abbasi

    In March 2013, PWF has started functioning in rural areas in the Eastern hills of Murree, a famoussight seeing place in Sub-Himalyas. Traditionally, girls have not been able to attend the schools due to absence of seperate schools for girls. For the last 2 decades, girls education is on the increase. Now, every family is willing to educate their daughters as private schools have emerged as a good facility close to each well populated village. Its easy to find girls in a village belt having a degree.
    We are on the mission to send ”Every Child to School”. There is ” No Malala beyond Malala Yousafzai”, as we are not facing any enemy to girls education in Murree Hills. So, we are just on the mission to support parents in accomplishing their desires to get their girls educated. PWF will continue to extend its area of operation with the passage of time, to all rural areas of Pakistan and neigbouring Kashmir.

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  4.  avatarRaza Abbasi

    Do You Know? Meanings of Malala?? I tried to consult the Urdu dictionary to know what Malala means. I found the related word Malal, masculine of Malala. Malal means ‘grief’, so what can I understand is that Malala means a kind of sorrow or grief. If this is the true meaning of what Mr Yousufzai named his daughter, it was a bad option he made.
    Lesson Learnt: Names have their effects on the personalities, give your child a good name that means blessing, hope, award, reward, good deed, politeness, boldness and like that. Avoid giving names like Toofan means storm, Sailab means flood, Darya means river that is uncontroled one etc.

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