When I was in the northern areas of Pakistan over the summer I learnt why the Iqra Fund model is successful. Why is it that so many NGO’s and INGO’s have come and gone, leaving only traces of their partially built infrastructure? These are some of the hardest places to reach, making consistency of projects an ongoing challenge. The Iqra Fund model works relentlessly with the community, partnering with the Village Education Committee and the Mother Support groups. In order for these children to be successful within the education spectrum they need support in and out of the school. This picture was taken with the Mother Support Groups in Basho Valley. It took us hours to make it to the top but once you get there you realize the struggle is worth it. Basho Valley is one of the most scenic places I have ever seen. Encompassing the only school in the valley, rests a community bursting with excitement that was thrilled to show me around. I had the privilege of meeting the strong, resilient and dedicated mothers of Basho Valley. They traveled hours by foot to meet me, leaving their work in the fields to discuss the future of education in their community. The mothers not only work in the fields and tend to the animals and livestock, but also run the households and families. Their support and encouragement is crucial for the children to be successful, which is exactly why our girls are!
“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’s 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.
“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.”
Zaira is extremely motivated to work towards the benefit of her community. After completing her degree, Zaira hopes to establish and sustain an effective science education model in her area.
It’s hard to explain what I’ve experienced here in Gilgit-Baltistan over the past few weeks. Finally getting somewhat of a consistent Internet connection, I’m able to post an update before the electricity goes out. I’m not sure I have the words to describe how I feel, as I’ve been able to unravel a part of Pakistan that until now I’d only ever heard about. I can now say that I’ve been to some of the most remote parts of the country. Parts of the country I never knew even existed. Villages that are completely cut off from one another and from mainstream society – where culture, beliefs and values have been somewhat preserved by the very mountains that engulf them. Each village has its own distinct identity and set of core values, where respective members have taken me in and left a lasting love and appreciation for them and especially their children.
On hardly any sleep, working with people I couldn’t help but fall in love with more and more with each cup of tea (and trust me, I’ve had far too many); there is absolutely nothing like fighting for the same cause. These barricaded little villages resting within the foothills of the Himalayas forced the team to learn everything there is to learn about one another while simultaneously being completely cut off from cellular and internet service. I’m proud of the work we are doing, but even more touched by the love, dedication, hospitality and passion of our strong team and leadership that strives to provide access to a quality education for children in the most remote regions of the country.
Sakina is a native of the village Baha Basil and is the 10th grade. Sakina is one of Iqra fund’s scholarship students and is an exceptionally bright student always scoring good marks in class. She describes the harsh realities and obstacles faced when pursuing her studies and that her father is hardly able to fulfill the basic needs of the household.
In their village, there used to be no proper education system for girls and boys, and only one primary school where a few boys were studying. Sakina was so determined and passionate to get an education, that despite the cultural barriers and constraints she joined a boy’s school and completed primary school.
After the completion of primary school, she demanded her father send her to the city to further her education but he refused by saying he wasn’t able to afford her educational expenses. Fortunately, she found a family in the city who were searching for a housekeeper where she worked for four years and in return they sent her to a government school. Sakina wanted to attend a reputable school in Skardu, and fortunately got admission in the Uswa Public School where she paid for school with the pocket money she was earing while working with the family. After a few months she was unable to afford school, but managed to get the school principle to acquit the fees so she could continue her studies.
Alongside her studies, Sakina was consumed by domestic tasks and chores making it difficult to sufficiently pay attention to school. Sakina then applied for Iqra fund’s scholarship and after a test and interview, she was selected. Now, she lives in a girl’s hostel where Iqra fund is bearing her boarding expenses and also providing her with access to motivational and career guidance workshops to build her confidence.
“Because of Iqra fund, I can fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor. Like me, there are many girls working in Skardu as a servant, I request Iqra fund to provide scholarships for them also.” – Sakina Batool
Meet Muhammad Hassan from the Saisko village in 4th grade. Like many other 12 year old boys in the village, he has big dreams and aspirations. Although Muhammad was born blind, he has never let his disability interfere with his dreams. His family is poor, and his brother is deaf. He has another sister, and five brothers. Like most men in the area, his father is a subsistence based farmer and works hard to provide for his family.
It would seem fairly easy to conclude that this 12 year old has so much working against him, yet he continues to demonstrate persistance and excels in his studies. He is top of his class, and is always the one to stand first to answer questions. He is also involved in extracurricular activities and is gifted with a melodic voice, empowering those around him through the beauty of song. On top of that, Muhammad was able to win 3rd place in a BWCDO quiz program. Although Muhammad never allowed his blindness to be a weakness, like any other kid, he wishes he could play football with his friends during break time.
There are no special education schools in Skardu, and many parents keep children with disabilities at home to avoid their children from the trauma of being teased at school.
It is Muhammad’s father who saw something special in his son and first allowed him to go to school. It is imperative to educate the elders in the villages just as much as their children, to provide them with the guidance on the importance of what an education can achieve not only for the progress of their families and communities, but for the safety and growth of the nation. Muhammad being only 12, has already broken barriers and achieved more than students in a developing society at his age.
By supporting Iqra Fund, Muhammad can complete the eye treatment he needs to complete his education, a school for children with special needs can be developed, and materials such as audio books for visually impaired children can be provided. It is evident in Muhammad’s story, that some children learn differently than others, which is why allowing a child to embrace their true potential and talents even if it strays from the traditional path should be celebrated and never ignored. One never knows what a child has to offer until given the opportunity to explore, learn and grow.