Update on Central Asia Institute Programs in Pakistan

Dear Friend,

As you may recall, I wrote to you in April regarding new requirements imposed by the Pakistan government on international non-profit organizations. Under the new rules, Central Asia Institute and numerous other INGOs were required to re-register, a process that reportedly can take some time.

I’m happy to inform you that Central Asia Institute has partnered with two other non-profit organizations that are registered with the government. While CAI is still pursuing registration under the government’s new rules, this new partnership will allow us to resume our support for education in the remote and marginalized communities of Pakistan that CAI has long served using new implementing partners.

As always, we are extremely grateful for your generous support and for standing with us despite these hurdles.

You can also rest assured that the important work being done in Afghanistan and Tajikistan to promote education and livelihood skills, especially for girls and women, continues.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at boardofdirectors@centralasiainstitute.org.


Ambassador (ret.) Asif Chaudhry
Chair of the Board of Directors
Central Asia Institute

Read the April 2019 Update on Central Asia Institute Programs in Pakistan.

Update on Central Asia Institute Programs in Pakistan

Dear Friend,

As Chair of the Board and on behalf of all our staff, let me start out by thanking you once again for your generous support for the Central Asia Institute. For more than two decades, CAI and its in-country grantees in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan have engaged in a wide array of activities to support access to education and livelihood skills, especially for girls and women. Projects you support have directly benefited and impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of girls, boys, and women in some of the most remote and underserved communities in the world.

I’m writing to update you on CAI support for programs in Pakistan. At all times, CAI has strived to implement its educational projects in full compliance with Pakistani government directives and protocols. Unfortunately, however, recent changes instituted by the government of Pakistan regarding non-profit organizations have necessitated putting a hold on CAI’s support to the international grantees implementing the projects in Pakistan until new registrations are in place.

I want to assure you that the CAI Board of Directors, staff, and our Pakistani grantees are currently undertaking all necessary steps to meet the new requirements so that we can resume our support as soon as possible. Further, to the extent that working through these bureaucratic processes may take time, we will continue to keep you informed. You can also rest assured that the good work being done in Afghanistan and Tajikistan remains uninterrupted. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at boardofdirectors@centralasiainstitute.org.

Once again, thank you for continuing to support CAI, and for standing by us in the face of these challenges – challenges that will not deter us and which we are working diligently to overcome. Generous and lasting support from donors like you is critical to unlocking the full potential of girls and women through education, and to fulfilling our mission of promoting education and livelihood skills, especially for girls and women, in the remote regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.



Asif Chaudhry
Chair, Board of Directors

Courage, a dream and a better life: The story of a fatherless girl from the high mountains of remote Pakistan.

ShabnamHere is Shabnam’s story, in her own words.

My name is Shabnam. I am from Harkush, a small village located in the beautiful Phandar valley of District Ghizer, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. I live in the most spectacular valley of all Gilgit-Baltistan.

I grew up in poverty, in an environment where education was a rarity among women. My father, Panjarash Khan, served in the Pakistani army until his retirement at age 60. His monthly pension is the only source of income for our family of seven.

Many students in the Phandar valley move away to other cities for higher education, but due to social taboos, most females must stay home or marry instead of attending college. Despite our cultural and income challenges, my four siblings and I are all studying in schools and colleges.

I attended our local government-run primary school. But there was no middle school in my village, so I stayed home for one year without schooling. Eventually, my father allowed me to attend middle school in another village. Taking two hours each day, the trip to school and back was not easy, especially when harsh winter arrived and snowfall covered the valley. But even with these challenges, I passed my grade 10 exam.

By the grace of God, I was admitted to the college in Gilgit City. I stayed in a women’s hostel while I studied, but the fees were a burden for my family. At nearly seventy years old, my father worked hard to bear the expenses, to the detriment of his health. Unfortunately, due to cardiac arrest, my father died and left our family with pain and sorrow. After his death, we could no longer afford my schooling.

Despite my grief and adversity, I asked the hostel warden if I could work as an assistant cook. She was a kindly woman, and allowed me to work for my room and board so I could continue my education in Gilgit. I went to school in the morning for six hours, and cooked food for hostel guests for the eight hours after that. This schedule was tiring, yet it was my only option if I wanted to finish school. I remembered the saying of Thomas Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” These words gave me hope. Eventually, I passed my grade 12 exam.

After completing my secondary education, I returned home. My mother needed me to help provide for our family, for my siblings, and especially to help my younger sister as she was studying for her own grade 10 exam. In the high mountain valleys of Pakistan, we young women must often make sacrifices to support our brothers and sisters.

As time went on, I felt a fiery passion to complete my own higher education. I prayed for a miracle. I pleaded and begged my mother to allow me to leave home and return to school, asking only for her permission, hoping to pay my own way by working. After much time and many heartfelt requests, she allowed me to go.

I contacted the kindly hostel warden for whom I worked in Gilgit City, sharing my whole story with her. She told me that in the hostel, there are students who receive scholarships from an NGO called Central Asia Institute Gilgit (CAIG). She said this NGO supports female students of the remote valleys of Gilgit and Chitral. This news gave me hope, as my own home valley of Phandar is especially remote, and perhaps this NGO would see fit to support me.

I made the five-hour journey to Gilgit with the permission and support of my mother and uncle, and 500 PK rupees ($4 USD) in my pocket. The hostel warden greeted me with a smile, and took me to the Central Asia Institute Gilgit office. There, we met with their finance manager, Karim Uddin, and CEO, Saidullah Baig. Saidullah said, “We are supporting hundreds of girls in their education here in these valleys. How is it you have not yet applied for a scholarship?” He asked about my story, listening to me with a kind and patient heart. And then CAIG agreed to support my education, with a scholarship covering my college and hostel fees.

This scholarship gives me strength, vision, and confidence. And it gives me the financial support I can no longer receive from my dear, late father. I no longer have to work while studying, and can focus on getting good grades in school.

I dream of becoming a teacher after graduating. Many schools in my area lack female teachers. It would be especially meaningful for me to serve in a CAIG school as a volunteer teacher. I am so thankful to everyone who supports me and other poor girls in our education. CAIG has opened schools in remote valleys where young women who live in poverty dream of education. They are bringing true change to the high mountains of Gilgit and Chitral. I learned that donors from the U.S. are supporting CAIG’s scholarship programs here in Pakistan. I owe many thanks to the kind donors who see the importance of educating the poor in Pakistan, including Gilgiti girls like me. I pray for the individual donors who support CAI: may God give you good health and happiness in your families. The slogan “Educate a Girl. Change the World.” means so much to me. No doubt if we educate all mothers and girls, we can bring change to the world.

I love poetry, and want to share with you a line written by the national poet of Pakistan, Allama Iqbal.

“You don’t get frightened of these furious, violent winds, Oh Eagle! These blow only to make you fly higher.”

I am sure Iqbal said this for the struggling people like me.

Thank you very much.

Where is Shabnam now?

Shabnam and her brother
Shabnam and her brother

Shabnam graduated from college! With the help of supporters like you and a scholarship from CAI Gilgit, Shabnam earned a bachelor’s degree earlier this year. And with your continued support, she is now pursuing a master’s degree in education.

Because of her example, her younger sister and brother are also attending college. Shabnam is a proud big sister!

Why Education In Pakistan Matters Now More Than Ever

For decades, the children of Pakistan have been beset by a failing educational system. Despite years of ordinances and attempted overhauls, the country’s school system currently lacks sufficient teachers and safe places to learn. As a result, millions of children may never become literate, or pursue any education past primary school.

Pakistan is home to tens of millions of children, with about one-quarter of the country’s current population believed to be under the age of 16. In fact, one in ten school-aged children worldwide are Pakistani. Yet as of 2016, 25 million Pakistani children are out of school – meaning 47 percent of school-aged children are not receiving an education. This lack of schooling and vocational training puts nearly half the future adult population of Pakistan at a severe disadvantage for improving their circumstances, pursuing a career, or increasing their income, all of which lead to missed opportunities for the nation as a whole.

To make matters worse, historic and current gender-disparate educational issues exist, especially in some of Pakistan’s more rural provinces. Nationwide, 55% of out-of-school children are girls. Where boys’ top-cited reason for a lack of attendance is an unwillingness to attend, the most common cause of girls who do not attend school is parents who do not allow their daughters to study.

Largely, however, that gender disparity does not match the values of the Pakistani people. 86% of Pakistanis believe education is just as important for girls as it is for boys, and an addition 5% believe it is of even greater importance for girls. Those are encouraging statistics in a country where female literacy rates still trail double-digit percentage points behind their male counterparts’.

Why Pakistani Schools Struggle

So what contributes to these statistics? One of the biggest factors is a lack of sufficient infrastructure. Of the four critical components of every school – toilets, boundary walls, electricity, and drinking water – only 52% of Pakistan’s schools hit the mark. Especially in rural communities, the lack of just one or two of these components can dissuade students from attending class – especially young females. Imagine your daughter longs to attend school, but has begun to get her period for the first time. If your community school does not have private toilet facilities or clean water, it can be embarrassing and potentially dangerous for her to make the journey from home each day. And this fear of embarrassment, or causing offense, has prevented millions of Pakistani girls from receiving an education.

For a country that desperately needs–and wants–a stronger educational system, insufficient infrastructure has the potential to undermine the efforts of both government and private schools. And this is where the Central Asia Institute has identified our ability to make a massive impact on the lives and futures of Pakistan’s youth. By refurbishing school structures that need upgrades, and supporting construction of new schools where communities have a need, we can provide safe places for boys and girls to learn, and eliminate one of the largest barriers to better opportunities for all Pakistanis.

We are at a potential turning point. With one in ten of the world’s school children residing in Pakistan, the nation is tasked with educating and empowering a massive percentage of future world citizens. Let’s join together to make a positive impact on the lives of the girls and boys of Pakistan. Their access to primary and higher education, and the problems they can learn to overcome, could benefit the future of the planet.


Fast Facts On The History Of Education In Pakistan

August 1947 – Pakistan achieves independence from a century of British colonial rule. 85% of the population is illiterate.

November 1947 – The firstNational Education Conference is convened, highlighting a goal of primary education for all Pakistani youth within 20 years.

1950-77 – A series of Five Year Plans invest in school construction, teacher training, and student enrollment, with limited success–as of 1971, when East Pakistan becomes Bangladesh, 78 percent of the new Pakistani population over the age of 5 remains illiterate.

1977 – A nonviolent military coup called “Operation Fair Play” overtakes the ruling government, and eventually replaces the government’s education strategies with new policies. In the years to follow, increasing Islamist influence on state-run education places greater weight on vocational training and women’s education.

1998-2010 – Revised constitutional policy in Pakistan identifies education as a fundamental human right. Further attempts to improve the educational system have marginal success.

2010-present – Power over educational control and reform passes from the national government to individual provinces; problems such as poor infrastructure and teacher absenteeism plague schools.

CAI HERO: Naseem Parveen

Naseem ParveenNaseem Parveen is Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) mission all rolled up in one person.

She is female. Her impoverished family was devastated by a natural disaster that nearly derailed her education. But with CAI’s help she stayed in school and completed her college degree. Now, at age 22, she’s giving back with a six-month voluntary teaching position in a remote CAI school. After that, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree.

But that’s not all. “Her story is different than the others because both her parents are disabled,” said Saidullah Baig, CAI’s project manager in the Gilgit-Hunza region of northern Pakistan. “Both her mother and father are deaf and dumb and Naseem is the only person who can talk to them. She has three brothers and wants to start working so she can help give education to her brothers, otherwise they will not be able to continue their education.”

The oldest daughter of four children, Naseem grew up in Gulmit, Gojal, a village on the Hunza River north of Gilgit. Her parents are subsistence farmers, growing small amounts of wheat and raising a few livestock. Their simple home was in a mountainous area with few modern amenities. “When I was young, at that time there was no electricity, phone and mobile system, although now these facilities are available,” Naseem said.

She started school at the government school in Gulmit, then switched to Al Amin Model School, a co-ed school about 2 kilometers from her home.

“My parents helped me a lot in my education,” she said. “My mother and father both are uneducated and disabled, but they did not stop me from school. Only sometimes I didn’t attend my school because of domestic work and helping my mother in the field.

But she faced some financial hardships. “I faced challenges like paying my school fees, uniform, shoes, up to 10 grade.”


Her life changed dramatically in January 2010, when a massive landslide thrust an entire village into the Hunza River, killing 20 people. The slide also blocked the flow of water and created a giant lake upstream, flooding villages and creating massive upheaval for thousands of people.

“There was a big disaster in our region when the Attabad village fell down and blocked the Hunza River,” she said. “The water covered all of our land and house. There was a darkness in our lives. We couldn’t continue our education. Even survival was difficult for us. My future was looking dark.”

But as the Persian proverb says: When it is dark, you can see the stars.

Naseem was about to start class 10 at the time of the slide (the school year runs from March to December in the mountains of northern Pakistan), but the repercussions of the disaster had her doubting that she would ever be able to finish high school

“So I was surprised when a man, Sarfraz Khan, came to our village and announced Central Asia Institute

[would] help the affected students to continue their education,” she recalled. Sarfraz was CAI’s most-remote areas project manager. He died in 2012.
When CAI stepped in to help, she said, she decided to become a teacher. “Since that day I thought that if I could complete my education, I will start teaching, help my parents, and help my brothers to continue their education,” she said.

She finished class 10 in a tent school set up by CAI near the landslide area. Then, with the help of a CAI scholarship, she moved to a women’s hostel in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, just outside Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad, and attended two years of college. When CAI reorganized its Pakistan scholarship program in 2011-12, she returned to the northern areas and completed her college degree in sociology, with emphases in education and Arabic.


Ever since CAI’s scholarship program began in the Gilgit region in the late 2000s, Baig has emphasized that the students should find ways to give back. In the past it had been mostly a suggestion, he said, but now he’s organized a program to make it happen.

“The idea is to encourage our scholars to community service and give them some teaching experience,” he said. “As you know, there are few job opportunities in these areas. In the past, we appointed a few CAI scholarship students who completed their education as teachers in different CAI-supported schools, but it is impossible to give jobs to all of our scholars. Some are getting jobs in different organizations. But many don’t have chance.

“So this year we thought it would be good to have internship program. In April, 25 students completed college graduation and offered themselves for service,” he said. “I placed two at a government primary school we support, three at CAI’s Ganjabad High School and four at Majaweer Middle School.” CAI provides a stipend to cover each intern’s room and board in the village.

When their six-month service ends in November, Naseem and the other interns will return to school for master’s-level (16 class) education, he said.

And a month later, another 25 CAI-supported scholarship students will finish their master’s degrees “and we will choose a few students and send them to different CAI-supported schools as volunteer teachers for four to six months,” Baig explained. “This will be continued for as long as the scholarship program is going on. It is a good time to start because now our scholarship students are in different stages. After every semester a few are completing graduation at different levels.”


Naseem was posted to Majaweer School, in the Ishkoman Valley of the Ghizer District, where she said she has happily settled into teaching English, social studies, and science to middle school students.

“I started teaching just after I finished my exam paper in April 2014,” she said. “This area is more remote than the area where from I belong, but the school is good and there are so many students. But all of them are studying free of tension because CAI is supporting them fully: fees, books, and other requirements.”

But she’s not just a teacher. She’s also a role model. In 2013, all of the students in Majaweer’s class eight said their mothers were illiterate; just one girl’s father had a primary- school education. Coming to school and seeing female teachers with college and university degrees makes a difference for all students, but especially for the girls.

Girls’ education is not a new idea in the region, she said. Everybody knows “education is important for girls because with education we can do anything.” The girls who don’t go to school, usually that’s “due to poverty,” she said. And, “in the areas where there is no school and they can’t get education, they are forced to marry in teenage, 14 to 18.”

She added that she is not married. “I want to complete my education and my brothers’ education is also important. If I marry soon, then both of this will be incomplete.”

Her teaching experience, albeit minimal, has already shown her that too often teachers are underpaid and classrooms overcrowded. Both cut into the teacher’s ability to concentrate, she said. And all teachers need training, no matter where they are in their careers. “I need this training, too, because then I can teach better than I am.”

She will get that training, and much more, during her master’s studies at Karakoram International University. After that? She plans to return to teaching.

“I think CAI and Dr. Greg are the angels in our life who give us a chance to improve our life. Otherwise it would be impossible for me to continue my education and become a teacher even,” she said. “Not only me. I know there are thousands of other girls whose life has been changed because of CAI’s help. CAI is always in my prayers.”

The Green Revolution in Pakistan

In the Punjab province of Pakistan, resting in the shadows of the mountains in Kashmir, the small village of Nindowal is recovering from an agricultural revolution. Five decades ago the promise of prosperity and fortune lured subsistence farmers to abandon centuries old agriculture practices in favor of new, high yield wheat crops. These commercial farming techniques are not sustainable, and the village is struggling with eroding topsoil and environmental devastation.

Asif Chaudhry, CAI board member and Ph.D. in Ag-Economics, grew up in Nindowal in the 1950’s and 60’s and remembers the rhythm of the family farm. “Our area was dependent on rainwater for crops and we grew a certain variety of wheat that was best for the region. We called it desi wheat,” Asif remembers.

Most of the families in Nindowal owned three to ten acre farms and grew a variety of crops including wheat, millet, chickpeas, barley and sugarcane. Not only did they sell their surplus crops to make a living, but they used them to barter and trade for work or supplies. They raised livestock such as cows for fresh milk and oxen to plow the fields.  The topsoil was rich and the rotation of crops helped maintain nutrients and balance the health of the soil.

Asif remembers the day his uncles brought home the new variety of wheat, Mexi Pak, that replaced the traditional wheat and shifted the village from subsistence to commercial farming. “It was supposed to bring twice the yield of the other wheat with less water,” Asif says. “They quickly realized it required chemicals to produce those big yields.”

“The first impacts were very visible,” recalls Asif. “The livestock industry faded away as people began to use tractors for harvest.  As the topsoil eroded people found they couldn’t grow the millet, sugar cane, or other crops.”

The small stream that flowed from the mountains of Kashmir through the village grew wider and flooded, carrying the remaining topsoil away from the farms. Tumbleweeds rolled across barren, chemical treated fields for the first time. Farmland that once supported several varieties of grains with only rainwater now demanded an endless supply of chemicals to produce Mexi Pak wheat.

“When we went through this transition of traditional to commercial farming we wanted to make life better, but it didn’t work out that way,” says Asif.

Sustainability Is The Way Forward

People in the village now understand flooding, drought, and damage to farmland are directly related to decades of chemical use and the loss of traditional crop rotation.

“As the next generation has access to schools and becomes educated, they are realizing the need for conservation in these areas,” Asif explains. “Through education they see the conservation effort must grow.  They are asking: how much change do we need?”

Asif explains that the villages cannot return to the traditional subsistence farming. It is up to the next generation to develop new sustainable techniques through education. Students like Kahlida, one of CAI’s scholarship students, are working hard to discover and establish sustainable farming practices that will help villages like Nindowal recover and prosper.

Khalida School
Khalida and class at Karakoram University Department of Agriculture

Kahlida grew up helping her family grow crops and raise animals in Pakistan’s Hunza Valley. Like Asif, she lived the transition from subsistence to commercial farming.  It is not sustainable. This experience inspired her decision to pursue an advanced degree in agricultural sciences at Karakoram International University in Gilgit.

“I can help our society improve,” she said.  “When I get done with my BSc honors program, it is my dream to go to a developed country … and learn advanced technology and technique so I could return home and influence the agriculture of my own region.”

Kahlida will not only be the first educated woman in her family, but she will become one of only a handful of women in this field. She is determined to use her CAI scholarship to help farming communities in Pakistan adapt sustainable farming techniques.

Asif has hope for Nindowal to recover though he knows it will never again be the subsistence community thriving on a barter system. It’s students like Kahlida who will use education to bridge the gap between sustainable agriculture that works with the land and the new commercial agriculture economy.  Kahlida’s education will make this possible.



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