We all know the numbers, and the facts of why we must invest in a quality and inclusive education for girls. The last few years education for youth and especially girls has been an area flooded with attention.
According to UNICEF we have also learned that a girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty where educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.
For me this past summer, these UN bullet points were no longer simply talking points or statistics. They were now enhanced by the lives of real girls with real hopes, dreams and aspirations. Why is it so important that we educate a girl? I was able to grasp a clearer sense of this after spending time in the communities in northern Pakistan alongside their families and community members.
When a girl is educated, she starts to develop a sense of herself, her future and her rights. In Baltistan for example, I witnessed middle school girls understand the value in furthering their education, and the value of a career. They were learning that a career meant they could earn their own salary, and make their own decisions. Girls were learning that an education is a stepping stone and journey towards something greater; where they can aspire to be whatever they want to be. These girls were as realistic as they were dreamers. I recall them telling me they wanted to be leaders and change makers in their communities; and to have a greater voice, and be recognized for their efforts and educational pursuits. These are girls who have never stepped foot out of their valleys, where phones and the internet cease to exist to expose them to broader thinking and ideas. These girls witnessed every single woman around them work endlessly in the fields, and get married at a very young age. I learned that the very act of putting on a uniform symbolizes independence, confidence and dignity, and the very act of a girl going to school inspires other girls to do the same.
An educated girl is educating her mother and grandmother, and providing the elders in the community with insight on what she has learnt in school and seen in the cities when obtaining higher studies. An educated girl gives her parents, family and community a sense of pride and hope and teaches her brothers, fathers and uncles to respect women and respect their will to go to school. What I found to be most profound yet powerful is that the educated girls in Baltistan I met this summer are all the first girls to ever receive an education in the history of their communities. These very girls have the potential and capability to create the change that these communities will see for decades to come. We are already starting to see the impact, where community leaders from extended communities approach us to provide education to their communities, so their girls are not left behind.
Iqra Fund envisions a world where every child has access to quality, sustainable education that provides them the skills to achieve success. We believe that boys and girls deserve an equal chance to go to school, regardless of political, religious, social, economic and cultural circumstance. This past summer, I travelled to the remote villages of Northern Pakistan where Iqra Fund works with communities to provide education. I visited the beautiful Basho valley, where I realized how much we take for granted on a daily basis even when it comes to the simplest things. A commute to school should not be life threatening, and young girls should not have to think of a life of working in the fields and early marriage especially as an alternative to a quality education.
On this trip I got to see first hand the amazing work Iqra Fund does on the ground. The Iqra Fund staff and teachers work closely with community members, parents and children to promote a healthy and sustainable model of community empowerment. It was fascinating to see how the very presence of a school in the village of Basho created a sense community; a safe space for everyone to learn and share ideas. I was excited to be a part of that community, and learn of the children’s dreams and aspirations of becoming the community’s first doctor or engineer.
There is so much potential in these communities that can be unlocked if only they had access to quality education. This is where we desperately need help. A loyal donor has challenged us to match their donation of $3,750 to support a teacher’s salary and training and in turn a classroom, and provide school supplies for 30 girls for an entire year. If we can match this challenge, we can support another teacher, classroom and supplies for 30 more girls! We need your help to make a difference in communities where most children don’t have access to a basic education, and these are the very first generation of girls that are going to school. With your help, we will be making a difference in the lives of 60 girls in Basho valley. Sixty girls who will have a chance for a better future, who will through their education influence and inspire others around them to send their girls to school. Your donation will go a long way in changing a girl’s life. We have till November 4th to raise this money. Please visit our Crowd Rise page to give a young girl the gift of education.
“I am very grateful to Iqra Fund for providing me with such a great opportunity which has become a source of livelihood for me. Now I am more motivated to do my work on a larger scale and would like to expand my business in the local market”
Hajira is from Hushe valley and is physically disabled and has no children. Hajira is the second wife of her husband, who is a carpenter by profession.
Due to her disability, she could not do any field work like the other women in her village, therefore, she learnt handicraft work from her cousins. She is intelligent and sharp and in no time started preparing very beautiful handicraft items. Since she did not have access to the market, it was only when tourists came to her village that she sold her handicraft items in the form of wool bags, embellished pillow covers, pouches and local caps, providing her with minimum earnings. She also sewed clothing for her fellow villagers and in return was given wood for the harsh winter months. Since Hajira did not own a sewing machine, she was fortunately able to borrow one from a neighbor.
When Iqra Funds co-founder Doug Chabot visited Hajira’s home in Hushe, he was incredibly impressed by her handicraft work and stitched clothing. Doug in turn gave Hajira a sewing machine to continue her work, and crutches which would support her mobility.
Hajira was keenly interested in getting proper training for tailoring and luckily obtained training from the Felix Foundation with the support of her family. She became more skilled in tailoring and after receiving proper training was able to earn some money.
By seeing Hajira’s work, The Felix Foundation selected her for tailoring TOT (training of trainers). After completing TOT, The Felix Foundation provided Hajira with 8 sewing machines to train other girls in her village and provided her with an annual salary.
Hajira claimed that after training the other girls, her business declined because the girls started to sew their own clothes at their own homes instead of giving them to Hajira. Fortunately, by the request of the community, Iqra Fund offered her a contract to sew school uniforms of children that are supported by Iqra fund. Now Hajira earns a greater annual salary, and is even provided with a cupboard to display her items by Iqra Fund.
Hajira continues to show excitement and has planned to expand her business in the local market. She said that she wants to continue with advanced training, especially in the use of modern sewing machinery.
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.