In 2017, after careful talk and negotiation, CAI was presented with the opportunity to create more access to education in Diamer District, an incredibly conservative area in Pakistan. In this region 72 percent of children age three to 16 are out of school, with girls representing the majority of that number. For decades outside groups have attempted to bring education to this region, but the concerned mullahs (religious leaders), were cautious of these foreign groups, many of which tried to start programs without talking with them or getting their approval.
Saidullah Baig, director of Central Asia Institute Gilgit (CAIG), one of CAI’s partners in Pakistan, held out hope that religious and community leaders would see the value of education. In the spring of 2017 he met with a group of mullahs and muftis (Muslim legal experts who are empowered to give rulings on religious matters) to talk about creating more access to education for children in Diamer (You can read about his conversation with Mufti Imtiaz Dareli on page 34 of the latest Journey of Hope magazine). These leaders were ready to improve education in their region, and Saidullah listened to their needs and concerns. In the end, Saidullah created a plan to help the mullahs bring education to their communities while honoring their religious traditions. An incredible opportunity, but something we couldn’t accomplish alone.
Over the spring and summer, CAI supporters came together to raise money to fix up a high school in Diamer that had been left in disrepair and to open new homeschools for the younger children to learn in a safe and protected environment. Today we got word of the incredible impact on the desire for girls’ education in this region.
CAIG set up three pilot homeschools for girls in Darel Valley, a region with 70,000 people in Diamer District, and the community is already asking for more. When the schools first opened in March 2017, 129 girls were enrolled in the classes. Now the schools are packed with 227 girls. Once the schools became available, the villagers saw how beneficial it was for their daughters. They began to trust that the homeschools were safe, and the demand began to grow.
“In Darel Valley the children are much excited about the schools. We have provided them textbooks and uniforms,” says Saidullah. “[The kids] say ‘I want to become a doctor or a nurse or a pilot.’ The kids and the people of this area are energetic.”
He continues, “Even the teachers to whom we have hired during the training we learned they are much interested. They are working hard and they have a good chance to teach their own kids. They have started a good job that is creating change in the area.”
Though enrollment in the homeschools has virtually doubled, the number is still dramatically low in a population of 70,000. It’s clear this community wants more access to education.
“That environment is still conservative,” says Karimuddin, manager of administration and finance at CAIG. “You have to go through a slow pace and start in small villages within some tribe specific areas. In response to initial starting of three homeschools we had 129 girls in March 2017, after people were getting knowledge of the school and they had started to bring their children in the school. Now it scaled to 227.”
Though there are many more girls to educate in Diamer, both Saidullah and Karimuddin see this first pilot program as a success. Other villages close to Darel Valley have been asking for help setting up home schools and they have more students applying to enroll than they have available spaces.
“Acceptance of this intervention means a positive change in behavior of the community towards female education,” says Saidullah.
The success of these pilot homeschools in Darel Valley is soon to spread into other areas of Diamer District, and the girls who graduate the home schools now have a chance to attend the newly finished high school. This is a small victory for girls’ education. Once more, we were humbled by the determination of girls to go to school and the generous CAI supporters who make it their mission to ensure these girls have the support and supplies they need to realize their dreams.
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