First Person

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 There are many reasons why: crowded classes, outdated teaching methods, and poor quality, even dangerous, school buildings.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.”

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