Watch Genevieve Chabot’s TEDxBozeman talk here: http://youtu.be/59RLVKPo-Ks
Read Little Pickle Press post about Iqra Fund here: http://bit.ly/Z9VcIX
Read more about Three Girls, Three Dreams in the Explore Big Sky: http://www.explorebigsky.com/newspost/three-girls-three-dreams
Missoulian Article: Bozeman Couple, Pakistani Girl Continue to Fight for Women.
Montana Public Radio: Listen to the interview with Sally Mauk and Genevieve Chabot on Montana Public Radio
Montana Public Radio’s Sally Mauk talks with Iqra Fund co-founder Genevieve Chabot about educating Pakistani girls.
It can take a full day of bone-jarring driving from the Pakistan capital of Islamabad to reach the remote valley towns shaded by the country’s jagged Karakoram Mountains.
For mountain climbers, it’s well worth the spine-jarring trip.
That’s because the Karakoram Range, stretching along the border of northern Pakistan between India and China, contains the highest concentration of mountains over 24,000 feet — including 28,252-foot high K2, considered one of the most difficult peaks to climb.
It was the mountain climbing opportunities that lured Bozemanite Doug Chabot to the region in 2000.
“They are the biggest and most beautiful mountains in the world,” he said.
But it is the people who scratch out a meager agricultural subsistence while living in mud brick houses at 9,000 feet that have given him, and his wife Genevieve, new reasons to come back.
“They are happy, hard-working people, and they had a sense of fairness and appreciation that I just found refreshing,” Doug said. “I was just so blown away by how gracious and generous they are.”
To help out the people that the Chabots have come in contact with, last year they began a nonprofit called Iqra Fund that is already providing full high school scholarships to 155 girls. Iqra means read in Arabic. The group has also hired 12 teachers to work in villages where girls as old as 15 will finally be starting the first grade, and they began a special needs fund to help nine families with disabled children in one village.
The villages they are working in are small, maybe 100 to 150 homes with 10 people in each. They are accessed by a single-track jeep trail that crosses rivers and creeks often with no bridge. Although their homes are heated with wood, firewood is scarce so it is mainly used to fuel cooking fires. Some villages have small hydroelectric plants or generators that provide electricity for a few hours a night. Crops of wheat, barley and potatoes are mainly used for food, not trading. A main source of income is from summer trekkers who hire locals as cooks or porters.
“People are working really hard just to live day to day,” Doug said.
Although most Americans might think that all of northern Pakistan is ruled over by Muslim extremists, that’s not the case where the Chabots are directing their attentions.
“These valleys are so remote and poor that finances and geographical remoteness, not terrorism, are the biggest barriers to education,” Genevieve said.
In fact, as soon as the Chabots launched Iqra Fund last year, Genevieve said her email inbox was immediately filled with Pakistani volunteers as well as requests from mullahs to come to their village.
“There’s a huge demand, but we are very deliberate about how we are going to scale up,” she said.
Genevieve and Doug were working in Pakistan for Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, which helps build schools in rural areas, when she had her epiphany – there seemed to be plenty of schools for children, but few teachers and even fewer opportunities for girls to be educated.
“So we decided to start an organization simply focused on quality education and access to education,” Genevieve said. “I knew that was the path that I had always been on.”
Genevieve has her masters in education, once worked for the Bozeman-based Traveling School for girls, and also helped the Atlas Cultural Foundation, based in Livingston, to create an education program for a remote village in Morocco.
Doug is the director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and an avid climber.
“Doug really helped start the Iqra Fund by keeping his job at the avalanche center,” Genevieve joked.
But Doug said it was Genevieve who was smart and energetic enough to get Iqra Fund off the ground.
“A lot of things aren’t that hard, and there are a lot of resources out there, you just have to be willing to take the jump,” Doug said. “We had all of these skills that we wanted to continue to use. So we said, ‘Let’s start our own (nongovernmental organization) so we can do what we’re good at.’”
Girls face dim prospects for education in Pakistan. The country’s Federal Education Ministry estimates that the literacy rate is only 46 percent, yet only 26 percent of girls are literate. Other experts place the literacy rate even lower, 26 percent overall and 12 percent for women and girls.
The barrier for girls to education is simple, Genevieve said. If a family has a choice between educating a son or a daughter, the son gets preference because he may acquire a job that will allow him to send money to the family.
Educating the girls and the women of a village provides different benefits, Genevieve said.
“When you educate a girl, she really does bring that education back to the community,” she said. “If you send a girl to high school, she will return to her village because there’s a strong family tie.”
She also noted that whatever the girls’ educational dreams are about – whether it is to become a teacher, engineer or doctor – they speak about how their skills could benefit their community.
“If she doesn’t go to school, she will be married off at 15,” Genevieve said. “If she gets a scholarship, she will be healthier and have fewer children. You’ve changed a generation with that one girl.”
Getting Iqra Fund going has been much easier than either one of the Chabots could have imagined.
“The biggest challenge and hardest part for me is I can’t sleep at night when I’m not there,” Genevieve said.
Conversely, when she’s overseas there’s no one at home pursuing fund-raising to keep Iqra Fund solvent. When she spoke to The Gazette last week, she was in California’s Silicon Valley seeking venture capital.
“Doug and I have been 100 percent volunteer,” she said. “The board of directors has approved to hire me starting January first. Then they will hire another part-time to full-time person to help me in Bozeman.
“We’re really fortunate to have some great volunteers rally behind us, allowing us to maintain a very low overhead as a startup,” she added. “We are under 3 percent for our overhead.”
Iqra Fund board member Andleeb Dawood has a special interest in the Chabot’s efforts. She grew up in Pakistan before moving to the United States to attend college. She now lives in Bozeman where she works as an investment banker.
“For the last couple of years I’ve been looking for a way to contribute to Pakistan and do something for Pakistan from the U.S.,” she said.
Iqra Fund was a great fit.
“My great hope is to see Iqra Fund has a longstanding involvement in those communities,” Dawood said. “I’m walking into something that I have the opportunity to make a difference for. We have a lot of leeway because we’re a startup.”
Between Genevieve’s trips back and forth to Pakistan to oversee the work, and Doug’s early morning hours monitoring avalanche conditions in southwest Montana in the winter, the couple may see little of each other at times, but they still believe wholly in their grass-roots Pakistan pursuit.
Iqra Fund Scholarship Program for Hunza Gilgit 2012
Criteria and Scholarship Policy
*Download forms below*
- Iqra Fund Scholarship will be provided to needy meritorious Girls from Hunza Attabad affected regions
- Scholarship will be provided to Class 9th, 10th ,11th and 12th students
- The applicant should be from Attabad affected remote village of Upper Hunza (Gojal).
- The applicant should get the admission acceptance letter from any reputed School or College in Hunza Gilgit Region in order to get shortlisted for the scholarship
- Iqra Fund scholarship program may cover the student’s admission fee, tuition fee and hostel boarding fee based on the applicant’s financial status and Iqra Fund’s management decision.
- In order to get shortlisted for the Iqra Fund scholarship the students past 3 years educational history or result cards must be provided.
- Iqra Fund will not responsible for the applicants hostel admission. Parents or guardians of the students are requested to arrange accommodation for the students on their own responsibility and provide the payment receipt to Iqra Fund representative for receiving of Funds.
- Scholarship will be provided on need and merit to limited number students by the decision of Iqra Fund Scholarship Program Management, the students will be notified through letter or a phone call by the Iqra Fund Representative.
- Iqra Fund will not be responsible for the applicants health issues, hospitalization costs or any other costs except educational expenses
- Iqra Fund scholarship managing body has the rights to withdraw, regret or cancel the student’s funds at any time.
- The scholarship fund of the students will be directly paid to the institutions through bank cheque or draft
- The deadline for this application to be received by Iqra Fund is 20th August 2012. *DEADLINE IS EXTENDED TO 26TH AUGUST*.
Please download the form, scan the completed application, and send it to the email, email@example.com, or to your local Iqra Fund representative. Thank you!
If you have any questions, please call Pervez Sajjad at 0300.257.0919.
Iqra Fund’s Strategic and Informed Programming: Summary of a Village Survey
Willy Oppenheim is a Rhodes Scholar and Doctoral Candidate in Education at Oxford University. Willy’s doctoral research addresses girls’ education issues in Pakistan. During his field research over the winter and spring of 2012 Willy volunteered to conduct a household survey of one of the communities Iqra Fund serves, Hushe Village. The following is an excerpt from Willy’s “Notes and Recommendations for Iqra Fund”. Iqra Fund is currently using Willy’s household survey model to better understand the current needs and opportunities in the villages we serve and ones that we plan to serve in the future. We have also used this report to inform our programs and funding for Hushe Village. As of August 2012, we began supporting the salary for seven teachers at the Masherbrum Public School, we launched a special education program to support the needs of nine families in Hushe, we are moving forward on implementing teacher training initiatives this summer, and we have plans for developing early childhood and preschools programs. We also launched a region-wide scholarship initiative for girls from primary school through university levels, with twelve female recipients currently attending secondary school in Skardu and two at the university level.
Notes and Recommendations for Iqra Fund
Prepared by Willy Oppenheim March 16, 2012
These notes and recommendations are based upon my interviews and observations in Hushe during two weeks in March, 2012. They are based upon transcripts from nine recorded interviews and nineteen unrecorded interviews with a diverse group of village residents including parents, teachers, and local leaders; eighteen pages of typed fieldnotes from observations of daily life including classes at the Masherbrum Public School (MPS) and the main government school; and quantitative data collected from a comprehensive household survey that provided background information about 921 individuals living in Hushe and 55 individuals currently living outside of Hushe. I have tried to tailor my recommendations towards questions and ideas first raised by Genevieve, but I have also taken the liberty of providing other suggestions.
I. Developing and recruiting teachers
More children in Hushe are in school than ever before, mostly concentrated below Class Three, and a significant number of children under the age of 5 are likely to enroll within the next few years. What this means, in short, is that Hushe faces a critical need for more teachers, and more teacher-training.
Student-teacher ratios at the government school, the ‘social school,’ and MPS are 29:1, 37:1, and 12:1, respectively. On multiple occasions at the government school and MPS, I observed groups of students sitting for extended periods of time with no teacher present. The basic need for more teachers—and better management of teachers’ schedules— seems pressing. The problem is particularly acute at the government school, where five teachers are expected to teach 145 students from Nursery to Class 8. The principal of the government school reports that the District Education Office in Khaplu is trying to provide more teachers, but struggling to find qualified individuals willing to move to Hushe.
Observations at the government school as well as MPS raised serious concerns about teacher quality. The concerns include teachers’ mastery of content as well as pedagogical awareness. Key content-related issues include conversational English skills (despite both schools purportedly being English-medium, I would describe only one teacher at each school as comfortably conversational in English) as well as higher-level math skills. Basic pedagogical issues include purpose-driven lesson planning (eg thinking beyond simply teaching what is in the textbook), managing learners of different ages and abilities (increasingly urgent in light of high student-to-teacher ratios), and designing assessments to track student progress.
It seems that Ismail (an MPS teacher) benefited hugely from the teacher training in Gilgit that he recently attended with the support of Iqra Fund. He is working to share new insights with his colleagues, but it seems that this will be no substitute for enabling more teachers from both schools to attend such trainings. Training multiple teachers at the same time might be more efficient and lead to development of an atmosphere of more peer-to-peer support among Hushe teachers. It might be worth considering paying a trainer or a team of trainers to come to Hushe, or arranging a special workshop for Hushe teachers in Skardu.
In terms of helping teachers develop English skills, the best possible solution might be the provision of foreign volunteers who are native English speakers. It is possible that Omprakash (www.omprakash.org) can help find individuals willing to come to Hushe for several months at a time to help teachers and students develop their conversational English skills.
Special attention should be given towards development of early-childhood educators. Of
Hushe’s current 262 students in school, 124 are in Class 1 or below, and there are an additional 134 children under the age of 5 who have not yet been to school. Assuming some or most of these children will enroll within the next three years, this means that in 2015 well over 50% of Hushe’s students will be in Class 3 or below. This assumption should inform short-term teacher training.
In relation to provision of more teachers, one point worth bearing in mind is that Hushe risks a serious ‘brain drain’ if it cannot provide job opportunities for its residents that are currently pursuing further schooling outside of the village. Grooming these young people to become teachers seems to be a pragmatic response to this risk, especially given that non-Hushe residents appear very reluctant to accept jobs in Hushe. One suggestion for development of this next generation of teachers is to offer them paid non-formal teaching opportunities when they come home during the holidays.
II. Identifying and addressing gender gaps
The household survey revealed that girls lag behind boys in enrolment and attainment at all levels of schooling. These gender gaps have narrowed over the generations, but they still persist. The most commonly cited reason for not sending girls (and boys) to school is the cost of schooling. Even with no enrolment fees for girls at either school in Hushe, additional annual fees total upwards of $50 USD at MPS, and slightly less at the government school. For a range of reasons, parents seem more willing to pay these fees for boys than for girls—even if on the abstract level they value schooling for both. This fact needs to be understood in relation to opportunity costs as well as ‘direct’ costs. The direct costs of schooling can be addressed through strategic scholarships, stipends, and etc., but the opportunity costs—eg, the need for girls to do household and agricultural labor, and the temptation for boys to accept ‘easy money’ from the tourism industry rather than gamble for a steady job in Pakistan’s faltering economy—will be harder to address.
My qualitative exploration of ‘demand’ for girls’ schooling in Hushe suggested that very few—if any—parents are opposed to the idea of sending girls to school; rather, they end up not sending girls because the returns on investments in schooling are perceived to be higher for boys. This perception may indeed be true unless more jobs—especially jobs in Hushe—become available for girls. Many parents cited ‘seeing’ the handful of female teachers and lady health workers in Hushe as a primary motivator for sending their daughters to school. This finding might suggest that creating job opportunities for Hushe’s few already-educated females—in addition to preventing a ‘brain drain’ and retaining valuable ‘human capital’ within the community—would help motivate parents to invest more in their daughters’ schooling.
Thirty percent of girls in the 6-10 age cohort (in comparison to 5% of boys) are out of school. These girls are of prime school-going age and should be given immediate attention. The household survey identified the exact households with out-of-school girls in this cohort, and I have provided HWDO with this list and suggested that these households should be approached immediately.
Forty-six percent of girls in the 11-20 age cohort have never been to school, and an additional 20% dropped out with three years of schooling or less. It is not likely that girls of this age will re-enroll, but a range of alternative programs (eg literacy workshops) seem viable. Ume Kulsoom, the current teacher at the ‘social school,’ already tutors a number of out-of-school girls without pay, and would likely be eager to boost her income by helping Iqra Fund implement such a program.
Efforts to reduce the barriers imposed by the direct costs of schooling need to be strategic, and need to address costs of schooling in Hushe as well as costs of schooling beyond Hushe.
Regarding fees associated with schooling in Hushe—eg, stationery, uniforms, firewood, and books—a range of past and current efforts have attempted to defray these costs, but none have been systematic. For example, another NGO that has worked in Hushe has periodically given away free stationery, and HWDO reports having a policy for providing support to especially poor students, but there is no clear route whereby parents in need can pursue this support. One mother captured the situation quite clearly:
“Nobody has come here to encourage us to send them to school. I am poor, so they don’t ask me.”
I suggest the creation of a scholarship/stipend fund for families of out-of-school children in Hushe. The creation of the fund should include clear definitions of how families qualify for different levels of support, and should be accompanied by a comprehensive effort to inform all families of how to ‘apply.’
Regarding fees for schooling beyond Hushe, I would make a similar recommendation for the creation of more clearly defined scholarship opportunities. Many families consider these expenses to be far more than they can afford.
Economic constraints aside, there are serious social concerns associated with sending one’s unmarried daughter to live out of Hushe, especially if she cannot live with relatives, but it appears that most parents would be willing to set these concerns aside if their daughters could live with other girls, for example, in a hostel environment. It should be noted that a number of teachers expressed concerns about the ways that an oversupply of scholarships and ‘giveaways’ can cause parents to undervalue their children’s schooling.
III. Improving learning environments
Three classrooms at MPS remain unusable in wintertime because there is no woodstove for heat. Consequently—and ironically—students at MPS often end up outside in the cold because it is at least warmer than the unheated classrooms, and less crowded than the heated ones. Every student at MPS and the government school is required to bring firewood to school per year, but at MPS the firewood supply is still reportedly too low to heat the other classrooms.
At the government school, a simple lack of classroom space also leads students to sit outside in the cold. This issue will presumably be resolved by the new building under construction, although it is not clear when that building will be usable.
At both schools, I also observed an acute lack of basic learning aids such as colorful posters or wall paintings and educational games for younger students.
This is perhaps the area with the most ‘low hanging fruit’ for Iqra Fund to address. Both schools could benefit from provision of woodstoves and additional firewood, as well as basic learning aids as mentioned above. Of course, it should be noted that simply buying new materials will not achieve much without appropriate training for the teachers that will be using these materials.
IV. Introducing ‘special education’ programming
I identified five disabled individuals in Hushe that have never been to school. As far as I can tell, no past program has sought to provide support for these individuals or for their families.
The individuals are described below:
- Haluma, an 8 years old girl: her spine is curved such that her left side is unusable and she cannot stand or speak clearly. Her mental functioning is probably ‘slow,’ but she is alert and communicative.
- Mohammad, a 25 year-old boy: his hands and feet are deformed and he cannot walk. He is alert and communicative. It should be noted that two of his siblings are also slightly disabled, but both are in school (brother in Class 9 in Khande; sister in Class 1 at government school).
- Abdullah, (father is deceased) is roughly 25 years old; he cannot walk. He is alert and communicative.
- Munawar is 5 years old; he is mentally retarded and requires constant care.
- Ali Musa is roughly 14 years old; he is mentally retarded but less severe than Munawar, and is able to walk around Hushe independently.
In addition to basic quality-of-life concerns for these individuals, it should be noted that their mothers and sisters bear the burden of their constant care, and that this responsibility has kept a number of their sisters out of school. In this sense, providing some sort of programmatic support for them could provide positive spillover effects for their families and could also help create an atmosphere in Hushe in which such disabilities are no longer considered to be a private personal burden.
As one mother said to me: “Some people from Hushe support us with money or clothes, but no foreigners or NGOs. My son stays inside, so nobody sees our problems.”
It seems that any sort of ‘special education’ program would be beneficial for these individuals and their families. Program activities could be as simple as singing, playing, and doing basic physical exercises. Even if only offered for a few hours a day for a few days a week during the summer season, such a program would provide stimulation to the individuals and relief to their families, and would set a precedent for more public support of disabled residents in Hushe. I have observed a similar program in urban India and would be happy to share more details.
One point worth noting is that this sort of program, if funded by Iqra Fund, could provide meaningful seasonal employment and professional development to qualified Hushe residents, for example, older girls who are on holiday from their schooling in Skardu or elsewhere.
Genevieve Chabot, co-founder of the Iqra Fund, shows students at the Lowell Whiteman Primary School what she wears while working in places like Afghanistan while talking about the organizations’ projects in remote villages in the Middle East. The Iqra Fund is dedicated to increasing access to education, especially for girls, in remote villages in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan. They work to produce opportunities for women and children to improve their quality of life through education. Chabot made the presentations along with her sister Kate McFee. McFee is a former English teacher at the school. Read the full story here: http://www.steamboattoday.com/news/2012/mar/02/steamboat-students-learn-about-pakistan/
In Morocco, a child is only named seven days after its birth.
Maternal mortality in the region is one of the highest in the world, and many babies die in their first week of life.
On my last trip to Morocco, I was honored not only with an invitation to the naming ceremony of Aichia’s fourth child–a celebration of her survival–but also with a request to help choose the name of the healthy baby girl.
As Aichia and I sat on the same floor where she gave birth seven days before, we spoke of her dreams for her daughter, of the uncertainty of her future. “When I took my oldest daughter, Layla, to her first day of school, we both cried out of frustration. Neither of us could understand what the teacher was saying. I am illiterate and was never able to teach Layla how to speak Arabic [only speaking Berber at home]. She also did not know how to hold a pencil or anything else the teachers were asking her to do.”
And as we spoke, I shared stories with her about young women and girls in the Karakorum Mountains of Pakistan who do not have the opportunity to attend primary school. She and the women at the naming celebration shared very similar dreams for their children to those of mothers in Pakistan. “We need our children to be safe, healthy, and well-educated to have a better life” one mother said, the other women adding their agreement.
But preschool and kindergarten are nonexistent in the village, so children don’t understand Arabic, the language spoken in primary school, or have the skills to learn how to read and write. And even if they’re able to succeed through the sixth grade and go on to secondary school, how can a family of six with an income of $500 per year afford an annual tuition of $1,000 in Azilal?
I sat in Aichia’s home excited for the change that Iqra Fund’s programs will bring. Layla symbolizes the future. With preschool she will have a better chance to succeed in first-grade. Her success will carry through primary school and her education would brighten her village’s future. An education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty plaguing the region. An education will drastically decrease infant and maternal mortality rates in the community. An education is the community’s future.
As I sit next to Aichia and prepare to name her new daughter, I wonder if this beautiful little girl will survive her first years of life and attend the new preschool we’re working to provide for the village. Will she grow up with her big sister, Layla, leading the way through secondary school with an Iqra Fund scholarship?
I give Aichia a smile and the new baby a kiss and suggest the name, Noor Mina, meaning little light.