Category Archives: Pakistan

Food Crisis in Pakistan: Lasting Consequences of the Flood

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While news sources from across the world have been relaying images of devastation back from Pakistan, only minor exposure has been given to the greater ramifications of these floods. This is perhaps a combination of the magnitude of the immediate disaster and our inability to speculate  how much damage will remain once the waters have receded. Currently, relief efforts must be geared towards making sure that people have been rescued from affected areas and that refugee populations have been given some place to settle in lieu of their ruined homes and farms. Branches of the UN and other NGO’s, as well as governments abroad have been tirelessly raising money in order to stabilize displaced populations, but according to Al Jazeera, an effort to rebuild Afghanistan could take up to $15 billion (USD) and countless years.

Food Shortages spark frustration in Pakistan, Photo credit: © United Nations World Food Programme/Amjad Jamal 2010

Despite the state of the flooding disaster, one of the most  jarring long-term aspects of this flood is the effect of the food crisis on young populations. Pakistan, previously heavily reliant on agriculture, is now experiencing severe shortages in  food and clean water thanks to the devastation of farmlands and seed deposits, plus the general state of chaos.  Such widespread shortages are leading to malnutrition, especially in children. Nutritionists with the United Nations World Food Programme have put together packages consisting of high energy biscuits, cooking oil and flour to sustain refugees in settlement camps. Getting resources to those in need continues to be a problem, however,  especially for those who are not admitted to camps because they  fled their homes without proper documentation, as the BBC reports.

The food shortages mark an even more difficult transition for displaced people, but also severely threaten a new generation of Pakistani young people. Martin Mogwanja, UN humanitarian co-ordinator told Al Jazeera, “If nothing is done, an estimated 72,000 children, currently affected by severe malnutrition in the flood-affected areas, are at high risk of death.” This speculation tells us that should consequences of the flood not be mollified as soon as possible, this generation of Pakistani children may not have the chance to become educated and raise their standard of living. Rights to education and economic empowerment cannot be realized until threatened sectors of the Pakistani populations can overcome these unsafe conditions and rebuild all that was lost. While activities here at Barakat are being directed towards flood relief, and our collected funds have been distributed to families in Attock, our long-term goals of greater education opportunities for women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India could be irreversibly stunted should external flood consequences like food shortages and spread of disease not be addressed just as swiftly.

If you’re interested in helping the thousands of women and children at risk for malnutrition and water-borne disease during this threatening time, DONATE to Barakat now and help abate this crisis before its damage becomes irreversible.

-Elizabeth Peyton

Displaced in Pakistan Seek Food, Shelter Among Barakat Community

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Thousands of people are being displaced in Pakistan from what many experts are calling the worst monsoon floods in more than 80 years. Of those, nearly 600 have fled to the town of Attock in Punjab, the home-base of Barakat Pakistan’s schools and programs since 1994.

“These families are as newborns, with nothing to their name,” said Habibullah Karimi, Barakat’s co-founder.

Thousands of people are displaced from what many are calling the worst monsoon floods in over 80 years.

The estimated 75 families have come to Attock from the Azakhail Payon Afghan Refugee Camp in Nowshera, North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

“We survived only because we got on the train tracks and the roadways, which are on higher ground. And from there, we hitched rides away from the rising waters,” said one of the flood’s survivors.

As of now, many are staying in the homes of local relatives or friends in Attock. However, the local community is also made up of many refugees, and suffers from a poverty-stricken economy and a lack of resources, as it is.

Barakat is working closely with our Pakistani subsidiary  to — first and foremost– supply these families with food and cooking utensils, clothing, medicine and funds.

We also re-open our schools on August 15, and will welcome in the influx of children from these displaced families with open arms, but we’ll need to provide these students with uniforms, textbooks and other supplies.

In order to effectively provide food, shelter, medicine and clothing, as well as accommodate our schools, we at Barakat estimate that we will need to raise $10,000 for the victims of the flood.

So, we need your help! Please donate to Barakat now, and be ensured that our organization has been established in this community for over 16 years, and will use our first-hand knowledge to correctly allocate the donations to those who need them the most.

By donating now, you will help provide a safe, healthy environment for families escaping this disaster.

Written by: Lisa DeBenedictis

Flooding in Pakistan a Devastation, Barakat Prepared to Help

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More than 900 people have died in what The New York Times is  calling “Pakistan’s worst monsoon flooding since 1929″.

In a country already stretched too thin with poverty and lack of resources, more than a million Pakistanis have been left homeless. And according to General Nadeem Ahmed, Pakistan’s head of national disaster management authority, over 58,800 homes have been destroyed.

Barakat has three elementary schools in the Attock province of Pakistan. Arti Pandey, the program direction of our Cambridge, Massachusetts office, has spoken with Barakat officials in Pakistan, and thankfully, no one in those communities, and none of our schools, has been affected by the flooding.

In the past, Barakat has gladly opened up our schools to victims of flooding in Pakistan; most recently during the flooding in 2005. Today we stand ready and willing to help again in Pakistan, and our hearts go out to each of the victims.

Click here to help Barakat help Pakistan.

Girl’s School Attacked in Pakistan

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For many of us at Barakat, a step forward feels like it’s sometimes met with none other than a rude push right back.

For the past couple of months, Barakat has been working to establish a new scholarship program in our Pakistan schools for female students who’ve performed well academically and wish to pursue higher education. (To learn more about this initiative, check out our upcoming July newsletter, or read about our sister program in Afghanistan.)

But amid the fundraising, planning, and selections, we read the news.

According to an article in  Iran’s media organization, Press TV, a girls school in northwest Pakistan was bombed on Monday by unknown militants. Thankfully, there were no casualties, but the five-room schoolhouse was utterly  destroyed.

Destroyed girls school in Pakistan

Courtesy Press TV

The school was not one of  Barakat’s; it was a government-run school in the Sheik Baba area near Khar in the Bajuar agency region.

Although the militants remain unnamed, the Taliban, who outwardly opposes female education and has been responsible for many similar acts in the past, is highly suspected.

At times like these, it is difficult to understand why these acts of aggression are taken against those who are least capable of defending themselves, and it is easy to feel dismayed and let down.

But the government of Pakistan refuses to give up, and neither do we.

Pakistan has vowed that despite the violence, it will not shut down any of the girl’s schools.  And here at Barakat, we promise that no matter how many times we’re pushed, we’ll continue to move forward.

Click here to help.

Written by: Lisa DeBenedictis

Women Deliver conference talks maternal health

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At Barakat, we believe that educating women will also allow them to become better informed about their own health, and the health of their children.

By: Lisa DeBenedictis

The 2010 international Women Deliver conference began on Monday, June 7, in Washington D.C.

The conference’s focus is on maternal health, in conjunction with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to significantly improve maternal health worldwide by 2015.

According to USA Today’s article about the conference, some of the highest rates of maternal deaths occur in two of the countries Barakat works in, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, according to the Women Deliver website, one in eight Afghan women will die from complications with pregnancy or childbirth.

At Barakat, not only do we believe that education is the way to become successful and empowered, but we also believe that education is the best way for women to become better informed and aware of both their own health, and the health of their children.

As a result, Barakat has instilled government-backed health care programs at the Mullah Karim Nazar School in Afghanistan (which opened on March 6, 2010) and at the Besh Kappa Surkh School in Afghanistan (which will be opening in September of 2010).

Both schools offer yearly physical and mental check-ups to each of its students, and even parents, if necessary. If an illness persists or becomes severe, Barakat also provides ways to help get the student to a hospital in Kabul. (Read more about Barakat’s Health Program’s updates here.)

Yesterday, the Women Deliver conference began on a window-shatteringly high note, with the announcement of a $1.5 billion donation from the Gates Foundation in grant money for maternal health.

But though a donation such as this is certainly amazing and inspiring, anyone can help.

It doesn’t take much, and it goes a long way: $40 sends a girl to a home-based literacy program for a year, $65 sends child to one of our elementary schools for a year, and $200 provides basic health care for 350 children for a month.

In the words of the Women Deliver’s organization themselves: will you deliver?

Click here to donate now.

Violence Toward Women Slowly Becoming Not OK in South Asia

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Passing laws against domestic violence may not guarantee safety for women in some parts of the world, but it is a start. Legislation has been proposed in Pakistan that would make domestic abuse illegal. It covers a broad spectrum of acts including emotional abuse, deprivation of financial means, and wrongful confinement. Currently, women can report their husbands for assault, but it is rarely punished and most often overlooked. This bill would go above and beyond covering atrocities such as acid burning, which is still extremely prevalent in Pakistan.

Another precedent was set in neighboring India last month, when the courts came down tough on the perpetrators of an honor killing. Five elders were sentenced to death or life sentences for killing a young man and woman of different sub-castes who eloped three years ago. Never before have the courts ruled so harshly on a practice that has, in the past, been considered a cultural practice. The five that were given the death sentence were the bride’s brother, cousins, and uncles. The local village administration leader was given a life sentence.

These actions are major steps toward insuring better protection of women in societies in which their intrinsic value may not be considered as great as men. However, these laws and legal precedents will only protect some, and often, those in rural areas will not benefit. Police officers tend to look the other way when horrific crimes are committed, especially in cultures like Pakistan, where ultra-conservative Islam prevails, and in India, where the caste system is still deeply engrained in societal values.

Many women in Pakistan continue to be victims of horrific abuse such as acid burnings. Their husbands and sometimes in-laws will throw acid on these women, horribly scaring them and sometimes causing blindness and permanent restrictions in movement. One woman recalled her crime for such a punishment: refusing to immediately wash the dishes after a meal.

Laws against domestic abuse will only go so far. One doctor suggested punishment for those who sell the acid as well. This is another positive step in the right direction, but even more must be done. The best way to improve the lives of these women is to improve their social standing. These areas are extremely poor and usually illiterate. Women who are victims of abuse often have no other choice but to stay with their husbands because of economic concerns. At Barakat we believe that women in Pakistan who are educated are much less likely to be victims of domestic abuse, or at the least, will not stick around in dangerous situations. If women understand their rights and their options, they hold the power to determine their futures.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, an organization based in Bangladesh, has helped some of these women restore their dignity. One woman has been learning to knit sweaters and can once again take care of her children despite damage to her eyes, which has left her completely blind. Another vows to open a beauty shop to prove to her husband and others that she is a survivor and the acid burning did not cause her to lose hope.

The Other Victims of Extremism–The Mothers

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In July of 2009, President Obama made a speech in Ghana in which he said, “It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars.” Although the conscription of children in wars is a phenomenon often associated with Africa, it is a problem that has infected many other areas of the world as well. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with other countries in the region, the use of children by extremist militants is systematic and disturbing.

Watching videos that depict the training of children to become “warriors,” it is hard not to ask yourself, “How could you ever send your son here?” That’s because from a western perspective, it’s incomprehensible. In these areas, however, families are so poor that it seems to them that the best future for their children is religious schools. These schools provide necessities that the parents sometimes can’t. Yet they sometimes also provide something else. A future headed toward hate and, death.

Of course, this is not always the case. In the West the term madrassa (which in Arabic literally means, a place where learning or studying is done) has gotten a negative connotation mistaken to mean “terrorist training camps.” But most madrassas are simply schools. Religious or secular, madrassa can refer to a variety of different kinds of learning institutions. They usually refer to schools that provide training to become imams, or religious leaders. A very small portion, however, are training children to become soldiers in a “holy war.”

In targeting the root of this problem, it would be difficult to go after those who run these schools. For them, the ideology is set, their mission seems clear, and if one “school” is destroyed another could easily pop up the next day. Targeting the values of a society would be the alternative. In an article by the Christian Science Monitor, mothers of children recruited for extremism in Pakistan’s South Waziristan express their concerns for their sons. Their placement in society as women of very conservative, traditional families makes their opinion stifled and suppressed. They are afraid to protest the action of family members, but do not agree with them.

Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, believes that educating women can transform these societies. Not only would education bring greater economic prosperity for their families and communities, it could also help change the currents of extremism that so brutally take hold of these areas. At Barakat, we agree. We believe that the best future for the children of these areas is one of hope, not one of ignorance. In our upcoming printed newsletter we also discuss how important educating boys is. These mothers currently cannot provide a better future for their sons. It may seem hopeless but it doesn’t have to be. Education can be the first step to a brighter future for these little boys and their mothers.