On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we decided to re-post a story we had shared previously about one of our inspirational students, who wishes to bring science education her community. Enjoy reading Zaira Zehra’s story!
“I believe that education is as vital as food and water,” says Zaira Zehra. “Although I have seen so many people forgo their own education or that of their children due to a lack of resources, I think that every problem can be solved with determination and so we should never give up on the fight for education.”
Zaira is the very first girl in Hushe Valley to be enrolled in a Master’s program. Studying Science Education at Karakoram International University in Gilgit, she was one of Iqra Fund’s first scholarship students, starting from high school and now into her advanced degree. Zaira is one of the few girls in her area who have had the support of their family in pursuing an education – her older brother was one of the first boys in the village to ever go to school and is now a prominent village leader who has ensured that his sisters and his daughters receive an education. In many ways, Zaira’s family has helped pave the way for other girls in the area to go to school. “Many parents around here are not educated, so it is difficult for them to see the value of education for their children versus the benefit of marrying them off early or having them work in the fields and tend to the animals.” However, Zaira is extremely motivated to work towards the benefit of her community, and volunteers with Iqra Fund whenever she is home from university by helping younger girls in the village apply for the Iqra Fund scholarship program. After completing her degree, Zaira hopes to establish and sustain an effective science education model in her area. She is proud of all the other Iqra Fund students, particularly the scholarship students, who are all motivated to work hard and excel in school.
Haji Rasool lives in Hushe Valley with his wife and children, and works as a cook for mountain climbers during climbing season. Now in his mid-sixties, Haji Rasool has been a long-time supporter of Iqra Fund, and was one of the early participants in our adult literacy program. The video above is of Haji reading the alphabet.
At Iqra Fund, we believe that everyone has the right to an education, regardless of their age, gender, or economic or social circumstances. When we first started working in Northern Pakistan in 2011, we found that the parents of so many of the girls and boys we were enrolling in school also weren’t educated – they never had the opportunity to go to school. We also found that their interest levels were high; they wanted to be able to fully support their children’s education, and a big part of that meant learning how to read and write for themselves.
In response to what we witnessed, we started our adult literacy program in 2012 in partnership with the National Commission of Human Development. The program provides basic education to parents, particularly mothers who never enrolled or dropped out of school before acquiring basic skills. Currently, there are 45 students in the adult literacy center in Hushe, and we recently established a second center in Doko village, located in Basha Valley, which has another 80 students.
The results so far have been heartwarming and encouraging, for Iqra Fund as will as for the community. People like Haji Rasool are learning to read and write for the first time, and are learning how life changing an education can be. They are more convinced than ever that all children in their communities must go to school, a vision that we share and are working hard to achieve.
“To me, a girl’s education is far more important than a boy’s education. Educated girls can brighten the future of this country.”
Muhammad Ejaz joined Iqra Fund as a primary school teacher in 2014. Since then, he has not only been educating the school going boys and girls in his village of Basha valley, but he has also been working hard to motivate other parents to send their out of school children to school, particularly their girls. “People here had too many misapprehensions in their minds about girl’s education,” says Ejaz, “ I had to work very hard in order to convince them.”
Ejaz started motivating parents to send their girls to school by first conducting a survey of his village. He would visit the parents of out of school girls at their homes, and discuss their reservations. “For most parents, not sending their daughters to school was a cultural or economic decision. They were too poor to afford it, and they believed that education would not be of any value for them or their daughters.” However, Ejaz was persistent and eventually he won everyone over. “Now 100% of girls are enrolled in school, and all parents in Basha valley understand the important of education.”
Along with his primary students, Ejaz aspires to bring education to all the children of Gilgit-Baltistan. “I hope Iqra Fund will wipe out illiteracy from this area.”
One of the most rewarding things about our work is being able to see the transformation that takes place in a girl’s outlook on life once she has the opportunity to go to school. As our students begin their classroom education they are opened up to a world of possibilities. They start to dream of they things they could do, what kind of career they could have, and begin to develop ambitions for their future. This is so exciting to witness, and it strengthens our conviction that these girls, once educated, can change their communities for the better and bring prosperity to the entire region.
Recently we talked with Roqaiya Bano from Hushe valley who aspires to become a doctor and serve her village. Roqaiya is a 20 year old high school student being supported by Iqra Fund. Having to wait for many years to get to high school didn’t deter Roqaiya, who is the daughter of a farmer and one of eight family members. In her early years there was no primary or middle school in her village, and when one finally opened it she began studying, even though she was older than all of her classmates. However, her village did not have a high school, so after middle school she was forced to discontinue her education; her father could not afford to send her to live in a nearby town to attend high school.
After three years passed, Roqaiya learned of Iqra Fund’s higher education scholarship program for girls. She is now studying in a high school in Skardu, where Iqra Fund covers the cost of her schooling and accommodation. Though Roqaiya missed out on going to school for years due to her family’s poverty, she never lost her drive for education. Once she realizes her dream becoming a doctor, she hopes to provide maternal and child healthcare to the women of her village.
At Iqra fund, we spend a lot of time carefully evaluating the work we do. Each teacher training program, leadership training for communities and each and every classroom is monitored, and data is painstakingly recorded on key
outcomes, quality and performance, to name a few of our parameters. Our staff not only works directly with communities to implement our programs, they also work hard to maintain updated records and data on each of our program areas.
Why do we do this? As a social organization, our purpose of providing access to quality education for children, especially girls, in northern Pakistan is central to our existence. We believe that gathering data on our programs is critical to helping us ensure that we fulfill that purpose and remain true to our mission, that our approach is succeeding and is, in fact, improving the lives of people living in remote rural areas of Pakistan. Gathering data not only definitively proves that we are achieving what we set out to do, it helps us identify potential challenges and opportunities for our program that can make us even stronger.
Measuring our impact across key performance indicators such as school enrollment, dropout rates, and year-end exam results is important for our donors as well. For those who demonstrate their trust in our ability to change lives through education, we must be absolutely certain that their generously given funds are being used to their maximum potential. We are happy to report that our program is 100% transparent, and are results are communicated each year with our annual report. For more detailed information on our programs, reach out to us any time! We are always happy to share information on the important work that we are doing.