Celebrating Our Birthday: The Pioneer Fund a Next Generation Idea

Today is a big day for CAI – we’re celebrating 21 years of providing education to some of the most remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. We’re marking this occasion with a huge announcement that honors our past as pioneers of innovation and looking to the future needs of the people we serve. Please welcome the Pioneer Fund.

The Pioneer Fund is a chance for us to get back to our roots – to try new ideas that push forward the opportunities for education in paths no one thought possible. It will empower our in-country partners to create effective new projects to meet a changing demand for education.

Jim Thaden, executive director of Central Asia Institute says, “CAI has a 20-year history of pioneering innovative new programs and new geographies. As we move forward, sustaining this pioneering history is very important.”

It’s only fitting that the first project for the Pioneer Fund is breaking ground in an area where many of CAI’s methods for developing schools with community involvement took place, Chapurson Valley in the Hunza region of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

The Chapurson Valley Model Degree College will serve as one of the first colleges in this remote and isolated area and will provide the nearly 5,000 residents of 11 villages the opportunity to earn a degree without having to journey to a faraway city. Much like the rural colleges established in the U.S., this college will create a model that allows more people to earn degrees and keeps the knowledge base in the community to create jobs and inspire the next generation.

History of CAI and Chapurson Valley

CAI began working in Chapurson Valley in the late 1990s after now-board member George McCown had a chance encounter with Greg Mortenson on the last mile of a trek that took him to the base camp of K2. Greg was waiting for him on his return with a birthday card from the American Himalayan Fund and the two quickly became friends.  George’s lead porter Faisal Baig hailed from one of the 11 villages in Chapurson Valley and had a relative, Saidullah Baig, write a letter to Greg asking him to create better access to education in Chapurson Valley.

With George’s help, Greg began working in Chapurson, starting with a clean water project that created easily accessible water for cooking, drinking, and washing in 1998. Over the next few years Greg worked with the villages in Chapurson valley to build and support schools, starting with the last village at the end of the road. Through these schools and many others, CAI pioneered the method of starting with the places at the end of the road and with the least resources and working their way back to the places with the most resources.

The First Pioneer Fund Project

Today CAI has over 30 educational, health, and women’s empowerment projects in the valley and the needs for education have changed. Each year 15 percent of the students who graduate complete their grade 10 exams with the dream of earning a higher education, but this remote and poor valley has no option for them and no resources to send them to expensive and faraway city schools.

Even CAI cannot support scholarships for all the students who want to continue learning, and those who leave, rarely come back to their rural villages. This means the villages are losing future leaders with the skills to help the communities grow.

Saidullah Baig, who wrote the letter to Greg almost two decades ago and is now the director of Central Asia Institute–Gilgit (CAI-G) proposed the college as the next step for education in this rural valley. This pioneering project will help Chapurson Valley meet the changing needs in education, create important jobs for graduates, and help keep these future leaders closer to their communities.

“If CAI will build this college in the valley, all the kids who completes their Grade 10 can continue their higher education on their doorsteps,” hopes Saidullah.

The School

Saidullah and CAI-G broke ground on the college last week in honor of CAI’s birthday. It will consist of twelve classrooms, a science lab, a computer lab, offices for administrators, a separate exam hall, and washrooms for both men and women. The college will also include a women’s hostel for students who live too far to walk and whose families would not allow them to study otherwise. This idea is part of the pioneering process, to address all roadblocks to education.

The college is being developed in conjunction with Karakorum University. The college will work under the wing of the university throughout its scale up period.

CAI-G and the University are working closely together on the curriculum requirements and accreditation process to ensure that every student who graduates will be prepared to enter the workforce.

Chapurson Valley Model College will be a prototype for other rural places in the areas we serve. The hope is to learn from this first project and replicate it as more students in isolated regions are ready for higher education.

“The people are really proud of CAI because we focus on the remote areas like Chapurson, Broghil, or Darrel – neglected and ignored areas,” says Saidullah. “Every time we discuss about this project they are much happy and proud.”

Creating a Connection

This project and the all-new Pioneer Fund are an important step forward in our mission to create access for education, especially for women, in these remote and mountainous areas. It reminds us to stay focused on finding the barriers to education and addressing them in ways that support the people we serve.

In 2001 George returned to Pakistan to see his completed water project and help dedicate several schools in Chapurson Valley. This trip continues to give him perspective years later on the importance of CAI projects and what they need to do to be successful.

“One girl at a time, one village at a time is where it happens,” he says. “How is [this project] going to help us serve the people in these villages through education, particularly the girls? That is where the action is, that is where it really makes a difference.”

The Chapurson Valley Model College will be the next pioneering project to answer these questions, one village, one girl, and one student at a time. Keep follow us for updates on the college and the success of the students once it’s opened. Thank you for follow us these past two decades and believing education, especially for girls, will bring peace and prosperity to these countries and the world.



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