North Pakistan is a land of extraordinary natural beauty. The beauty of its Shire-like villages, snow-capped peaks, lush green valleys and glacial lakes are surpassed only by the generosity of its people. It is commonplace for the locals to make tea for visitors and offer their very best apricots and pomegranate to tourists. Sadly, the people of Northern Pakistan are also some of the poorest in an already impoverished country. In Naran, there is a girls’ primary schools in a remote and sparsely populated mountainside village. Adorable little girls in headscarves enthusiastically learning their lessons under the most primitive conditions. Their only shelter is a tree and their tattered books were shared by several students. Their clothes are inadequate for the cold weather. Their condition is heart-wrenching but their joy for learning is awe-inspiring. Their contagious enthusiasm should serve as inspiration for the private and public sector to improve the standards of education in the remote regions of Northern Pakistan.
North Pakistan Imbroiglio
There are many challenges. North Pakistan suffers from a complex myriad of social, political and economic problems. Decades of war in neighboring Afghanistan and systemically poor governance have deprived the region of peace and prosperity. The vacuum of post Soviet-Afghan war gave rise to the extremism on both sides of the Af-Pak border. Government schools for girls were bombarded by the ultra-conservative Taliban. The reactionary militias hold a disdain for education in general and girls’ schools in particular. Under such dire circumstances, education often takes a back-seat to immediate concerns such as malnutrition and security. This void is often filled by madrassas as the lone alternative to education. The madrassas are projected as “Jihad Factories” in western media but this is not entirely accurate. Many carry out charitable work, provide students with basic Arabic and even meals for free. Still, madrassas are no substitute for a college, vocational school or even a primary education. They provide little secular education and no real employable skills completing a vicious circle of unemployment, poverty and instability.
Many social issues afflicting Pakistan could be mitigated by improvement in education. Vocational training can help the poor by opening up new employment and micro-business opportunities. Literacy can reduce the dependence on hard-liners for the interpretation of religious scripture. Health education could greatly improve women’s and infant’s health while helping check disease and overpopulation. Eradication of illiteracy and propagation of vocational education could help stem the rise of militancy emanating from this troubled region. A curriculum covering a wide array of courses would broaden the villager’s cognitive capacity so that they can reconcile the complexities of the modern world. Education has the potential to transform Northern Pakistan into a prosperous and tolerant society.
How NexGenPak can help transform Lives
The NexGenPak organization can help by raising awareness for this important but neglected sector by working with the Pakistani-American community. NexGenPak should consider marketing an “Adopt-a-Student” to the 500,000 mostly middle class Pakistani-Americans. This program that would fund, guide and mentor an underprivileged child from grade school to high school to a self-sustaining vocation. It is an attractive proposition for the average Pakistani-American because the costs of tuition are low and the returns are exponential. This utilitarian concept should garner a good reception in a generally philanthropic Pak-American community.
The dream of a perfectly progressive and prosperous society may be unattainable in this part of the world. The obstacles to success are monumental. Anyone that feels discouraged should draw strength from the courage and determination of those little schoolgirls in Naran. They endure poverty and hardships and battle the elements to attend class each day with a smile. The girl’s optimism dwarfs the most hardened of hearts. If NexGenPak can help even one little girl reach her full human potential, we should consider the sum of our efforts to be fully rewarded.