Monthly Archives: October 2009

Walk for Literacy was a success!

Barakat’s 2nd Annual Walk for Literacy took place this weekend and it was a huge success!  Walkers were ready to go at 10:30 and very enthusiastic to support literacy regardless of the rain!  

The students from Pierce Elementary School were especially excited about the event.  They spent the weeks leading up to the Walk raising money and promoting the event as well as writing a blog about their efforts.

Damon gave a brief introduction and thanked everyone for making it out to Cambridge followed by Habibullah Karimi who took the stage to discuss the cause and what it means to him.  Habibullah is one of Barakat’s founders and he is originally from Afghanistan.  Habibullah discussed the importance of educating youth as it enlightens individuals and brings light into their lives rather than darkness.  He is a true believer in the power of education.

SherBaz Ali Khan was our next speaker, an intern at Barakat who is originally from Pakistan.  He gave a very moving speech about the cause, its importance, what it means to him, and what it means to the people of South Asia.  This event comes at a very unfortunate time for South Asia, particularly Pakistan, as schools have been shut down in the region following an attack by a suicide bomber on a university in Islamabad.

Moderate points of view are a common side effect of increased access to education and opportunity.  It is proven that in communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan that have higher rates of literacy, the Taliban has less of an influence.  With access to greater opportunities, it is less likely that individuals will be drawn to a militant organization such as the Taliban.  It is no surprise then, that schools are often targeted for attacks.  Education represents a threat. 

Sherbaz went on to discuss how lucky we are here in the United States because the government would never shut down all of the schools in the country.  Something like this is unheard of in America.  

Arthur, a sixth grader, recently wrote in the Pierce School Walk for Literacy blog that learning about this situation “really makes you think about how lucky you are to live somewhere where you just have to fret about homework everyday, not war.”

Despite the risks that they face, girls continue to make great efforts to receive an education.  The BBC’s Hunger to Learn series has followed the lengths that individuals will go to receive an education.  In one instance, teachers were threatened by the Taliban after they had taken control of Swat but administrators decided to keep the school open regardless.  They complied with demands by the Taliban that they all wear burkas and the Taliban agreed to allow the school to stay open.  Unfortunately, the Taliban did not keep its promise and the school was destroyed shortly afterwards.  Because the Swat Valley has come back under Pakistani control, this school was able to open again although it was not repaired.  

Efforts by the Taliban have hindered students from achieving to their full potential and many fall behind in their studies.  Despite these grim facts, many of the students and teachers have continued to attend their lessons and study in the shambles that were their classrooms because they truly recognize the value of an education.  

Barakat is not immune to the threats that the Taliban imposes on students and teachers trying to advance their communities.  Security for Barakat’s schools remains the number one issue both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Though threats from extremists do permeate the communities we serve and have negatively affected our school attendance, there is still substantial turnout from both boys and girls.  This shows their bravery and their love of learning.  Those who use violence against education are weak and misguided, and need education more than anything to realize the strongest connection: that of a community who pulls together peacefully for progress.  Those who choose education are strong because strong people choose to communicate with words, respect, and peace.  

Preventing Violence Against Women: On The World Stage


Violence against women has a severely detrimental effect on not only a woman’s sense of self worth, but her family’s well being and the well being of the community as a whole.  The issue comes to discussion tables of the world’s leaders this year in the UN security council meeting and in the US Congress in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The world has begun to recognize the need to lift the status of women worldwide and international agencies both governmental and non-governmental have enacted various proposals for the advancement of women worldwide as they have recognized the need to end violence against women.

Preventing violence against women has been a goal for several years and has had some significant advances, though large-scale violence against women is still widespread.  The study Ending Violence Against Women: from words to action  by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon found that numerous tactics for ending violence against women have been implemented thus far worldwide.  This study profiled strategies that worked successfully.  Not surprisingly, education tactics were shown to be a highly successful method of reducing or enforcing laws regarding violence against women. 

Some examples of successful efforts:

  • Educating the public involves challenging discrimination by changing community attitudes.  Denmark launched a nation-wide government campaign in 5 languages so that all members of the community could be involved.
  • Informing community and religious leaders of negative effects of violence and discrimination against women.  In Egypt, local and religious leaders were informed of the adverse effects of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting which was a common practice at the time but is no longer as prevalent. 
  • Changing Men’s attitudes to end violence against women.  The White Ribbon campaign started in Canada in 1991 has developed educational material and action kits aimed at transforming men’s attitudes by distributing them to schools, businesses, and labor unions.  The White Ribbon Campaign now spans 47 countries.
  • According to a recent Huffington Post article , Women for Women International trained 400 mullahs in Afghanistan to incorporate ideas of women’s rights and women’s value to society in their Friday speeches.  
  • In the DRC, Women for Women International recruited thousands of men to participate in their training program.  At the end, 91 percent of graduates agreed that there are important reasons for a husband to stay with his wife if she has been a victim of violence and 93 percent of participants stated that the program encouraged them to prevent violence against women in the community. In fact, one of the leaders of the militia who was known to command his fights to rape discontinued this policy when he learned about the spread of the HIV virus.

Education is the key to jump-starting efforts to curb violence against women.  Through education, Barakat works to curb gender discrimination before it starts!  The common denominator in each of these examples of successful efforts at eradicating gender-based violence is education and dissemination of information about the problems associated with violence against women.  Barakat’s literacy programs and classes are very much vital to implementing ideas of gender equality and female empowerment because it allows for classroom interaction between boys and girls early on.  Providing a co-educational experience can expand people’s minds and bolster their respect and understanding for other individuals, irrespective of their gender, religion or ethnicity.  People develop their idea of society and normal community at early stages, so it is important that both boys and girls are given the opportunity to attend school together, increasing the likelihood that gender equality can occur in countries where it is not currently seen today.  Barakat’s schools aim to serve both girls and boys so that discrimination does not have a chance to develop.

Not only does Barakat provide literacy courses for participants, but it also provides teacher training for human rights.  Barakat believes that good education programs must include ideas of human rights in their curriculum.  For lasting peace and female empowerment to be possible, the concept of human rights and consequently women’s rights, must be ingrained in society.  Barakat’s learning programs work to make this a reality!  In fact, in 2008, Barakat ran a program with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission for teacher training in human rights.  The program focused on the current situation of women’s rights, the history of human rights, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and laws for punishment of human rights violators.  By weaving ideas of human rights and women’s rights into our courses, Barakat hopes to instill the idea of female empowerment as a vital component to ensuring peace!

Barakat’s Founders in Boston!


Barakat recently welcomed a visit from Chris Walter and Habibullah Karimi, co-founders of Barakat, into the office for a Question-and-Answer session with the staff and interns.  It was a great opportunity and we were excited to talk about new developments and Barakat’s direction in the future!  The visit began with a discussion of the beginning of Barakat as an organization and concluded with questions from our staff members about various topics of importance to our cause.  

Barakat began as a carpet making venture to generate income during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.  As the Russians took over the region, Afghans had two choices:  fight alongside the Soviets or fight alongside the mujahideen.  In response, millions of Afghans fled –women and children by road, and men through the trails at night.  Many fled to Pakistan, where the government was struggling to provide public schools for its own citizens, never mind the refugee community.  This is where Barakat’s work began.

Barakat began in 1987 as the Ersari Turkmen Weaving Project in the refugee camps of Pakistan.  The purpose of the project was to teach weavers techniques in carpet production.  Cultural Survival provided a grant and the project became very successful and generated a great deal of profits.  Profits were received by Yayla Tribal Rugs, Chris Walter’s Cambridge based company and were then used towards funding Barakat’s projects.  

Barakat built its first school in 1994 in Attock, Pakistan to provide the refugee community with the chance to better their own lives.  At the time teachers faced a great deal of difficulty convincing parents to send their daughters to school because they did not see a valid purpose for educating girls.  Many parents felt that the carpet weaving industry that was generating income at the time was sufficient; education, they said, was a waste of time.

Chris and Habibullah were not deterred, and they called a meeting of some of the most influential people in the community, including the tribal elders.  They emphasized the need for progress in the community and the value of education. To reach out to parents who remained uninterested in the newly established school, schoolteachers traveled to families’ homes to share their own stories of how education had given them new opportunities in life.  These teachers, primarily Pakistani women along with some Afghan women understood the culture and community concerns and were successful in convincing parents of the invaluable opportunities that education provides.  As time went on, Chris and Habibullah opened three more schools to meet the increased demand for education.  Girls that had graduated from the schools were instrumental in bringing more girls from the communities to enroll.

Despite various successes, there are still a number of challenges.  In 2001, when the Taliban was kicked out, there was a much greater sense of positivity and this resulted in a higher rate of female enrollment.  The recent resurgence of Taliban control has generated hesitation and fear about the safety of girls and the safety of their families.  Thus far, Barakat has been successful because the name itself, being of Muslim origin, has a positive and powerful resonance for South Asia.

Another key to the safety and security of the organization is the fact that Barakat is able to sustain a sense of legitimacy among members of the community. Barakat Afghanistan works with community leaders to help maintain this legitimacy in the villages in which it works.  At the same time, although there has been success in enrolling children in school, Chris noted that in Afghanistan “there is still a whole generation coming along in parts of the country that don’t have an education.”  Barakat hopes to expand its literacy programs and build more schools.  In the future, one of our greatest goals is to be able to fund students who pursue higher education after completing Barakat’s literacy courses.  

Opportunity is the key to building peace in war torn countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Chris highlighted the fact that “most [militants] are not ideologically strongly committed to the Taliban.  It’s just that they have no education, no jobs–the Taliban gives them money, pays them well–it’s a job.”  Barakat seeks to provide opportunity in South Asia where options are limited because, as Chris and Habibullah emphasized, “education sheds light and dispels the darkness of war.” 

Barakat’s Initiative Against Malaria


Malaria is one of the greatest threats to health and economic welfare in India.  Malaria causes fatigue, fainting, flu-like symptoms, convulsions, and in some cases can result in death.  This issue is a threat to individuals and the community’s economic status as well because it hinders parents ability to provide for their families and it limits students from doing their best in school.  Luckily, malaria is a preventable disease.  Barakat has been working to prevent malaria in communities so that there is a greater opportunity for indivuals to be productive and raise their standard of living.

Barakat hosted a wine tasting event recently to support our Initiative Against Malaria.  The event took place on October 3rd and there was a very good turnout!  Wine expert Peter Kenseth led this introductory wine tasting class to raise money for preventing malaria.  The money raised is put toward distributing bed nets to the students of Care and Fair Barakat School and the Barakat Qazipur School in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Long-Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets (LLINS) are recommended by the World Health Organization as the most effective preventive measure against malaria.  UNICEF utilizes these nets as well to protect children in various other regions of the world.  The net is treated with insecticide and continues to be effective for years even after being washed multiple times.  These nets are vital to areas that suffer from the malaria threat.  They significantly reduce the number of mosquitos that enter the home and they reduce transmission of the disease by as much as 90%.  

Unfortunately, many families do not use the nets because of their high cost and the lack of knowledge about their use.  Our event this past weekend raised approximately $500 and, at a cost of $5 per net, Barakat will provide 100 nets for families of students in our schools in India!  In addition to providing the nets for our students, Barakat is working to produce a how-to manual for the children to bring home to their parents that will explain the importance of using the bed nets as well as how to set them up so that they are as effective as possible.  

Barakat will be hosting future events to benefit the Malaria Initiative for our students in India.  Stay tuned for updates on future events or check out the malaria page on our website where you can learn more about how malaria affects our students and where you can donate directly to the initiative.

Get To Know the Barakat Staff: Kate Bispham


Name: Kate Bispham

Hometown: Sydney, ME

School: Endicott College

What You Do At Barakat: 

Fun Fact: “I love the ocean and the mountains.

What You Have Learned Working at Barakat:

Favorite Quote: “When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.” – Dian Fossey

Heroes: Dian Fossey, Greg Mortenson, many of my friends.

You’re Stranded on a Desert Island but you get to bring 5 things, they are:

1. 35mm SLR camera and film

2. memories

3. knowledge

4. a never-ending story

5. necessities for survival

Most Desired Superpower: Fluency in every language (like C3PO)

Educated Women Aid in Longer Life


A university educated woman has a positive influence on the lifespan of her and her partner according to a Swedish research study of 1.5 million Swedes. Authors of the research say educated women are more likely to understand various health messages for their families.

The study concluded that a woman’s education and social status were more important for a man’s lifespan than his own education. Since most health related illnesses and deaths in developed countries result from heart disease (as a result of food choices/lifestyle choices) and cancer (due to smoking/etc..), and since women are traditionally more responsible for food and the household, an educated woman would make healthier choices for the benefit of her family, resulting in longer lifespans for their significant others.

Quick Facts from Study:
A man is 25% more likely to die early if his partner is not university educated.
Women without a university degree are 53% more likely to die early.
Study done on 1.5M working Swedes

Although this study was conducted in a country with one of the highest standard of living indices, it is still relevant to the rest of the world. The study needs to be set relative to different populations, but the idea is constant: An educated woman will make decisions that positively affect her family, resulting in a longer lifespan for herself and her husband. Barakat’s courses provide health counseling as well as literacy training, ensuring that women can make healthy, informed choices about their bodies and what is best for their family’s health.

The argument against educating females, which is most prevalent in countries such as Afghanistan, claims “It is a waste of time. What will an educated woman do for me?” Evidence from this study suggests that educating women not only benefits the family, but it also benefits her husband as well. Specific health risks may differ in developing countries but healthier, smarter lifestyle choices will benefit the family tremendously.

In places like Afghanistan, where war has diminished the economy and infrastructure, health services and hospitals are not available for the majority of the population. This makes healthy lifestyles infinitely more important because it diminishes the likelihood of disease and the need for medical care. Taboos against discussing women’s issues and health concerns also make healthcare a difficult service to access. Barakat’s schools provide regular checkups for women and children. In addition, by emphasizing the importance of health in our schools, Barakat makes it more likely that women in the courses will make health a priority. With a higher economic standing as a result of being educated in our literacy programs, women will have increased access to information about best practices, nutrition, and preventing disease. Once they make health a priority for themselves, it is likely that they will make health a priority for their husband and their family.

Get to Know the Barakat Staff: Sherbaz Khan


Photo 5




Name: Sherbaz Khan

Hometown: Waltham, MA

School: Heller School of Social Policy & Management at Brandeis University


What You do at Barakat: Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Fun Fact: “I always smile”

What have you learned while at Barakat: “I have realized that I will be able to learn a lot about professional and personal development.”

Favorite Quote: “Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude toward us.” -Earl Nightingale

5 Things to Bring if Stranded on a Desert Island: My diaries, shaving box, hand bag, pen and paper, and money

Most Desired Superpower: Power to eradicate poverty from the world