Monthly Archives: July 2010

Feeding the Mind and Body: Free Lunches Provided in India


In 2001,  the Indian government passed a law mandating that schools provide free lunches for all of its students aged 10 and under. Some schools have extended the age to 13, and still others to twelfth grade. In  India’s Free Lunch, a short documentary produced by SBS Australia and distributed by Journeyman Pictures, Australian reporter Amos Roberts visits several schools in South India, as well as the factories that help produce the lunches that feed over 11 million Indian children six days a week. Moreover, enrollment in their schools has doubled.

Watch the full video here:

-Lisa DeBenedictis


Let’s Hear it for Mozdhah: Afghan Singer, Model, Activist


TIME Magazine calls her Afghanistan’s “part Oprah, part Hannah Montana,” but her real name is Mozdhah Jamalzadah.

Jamalzadah, 25, is a singer-model-actress who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, but raised as refugee in Canada. Jamalzadah completed a program of study in Broadcast Journalism at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and is currently studying Philosophy and Political Science at the University of British Columbia, according to her website.

She has modeled for Fashion Week, Cosmopolitan, and Asian Woman Magazine; recorded award-winning and chart-topping hit songs such as “Afghan Girl”; and even performed in the White House for International Women’s Day 2010.

Now, Jamalzadah has returned to Afghanistan, and hopes to use her fame to address the issues of women’s rights in Afghanistan as the host of Afghanistan’s new television talk show, The Mozdhah Show.

The show consists of performances by singers, skits, games, guest speakers, and a live audience. By blending comedy and entertainment with active discussions on family issues—even taboo topics, such as divorce—Jamalzadah hopes to spread change to her home country.

“What I am trying to do is introduce women’s rights slowly, without people noticing…I see through my audience an opening up of Afghan society,” said Jamalzadah in a recent interview with TIME Magazine.

Although Jamalzadah is a national celebrity, she has also drawn heavy criticism—and even threats—from some for her western dress and controversial subject matter.

But she refuses to let anything deter her. Rather, says Jamalzadah, she will continue, because she is beginning to see changes, even in the participation of her show’s audience:

“The women and girls, they feel like they can speak out. They are more confident,” she said.

Whatever she is—whether it be Afghanistan’s Hannah Montana, Oprah, or both—she definitely is a true inspiration to her nation, the world, and us here at Barakat.

Written by: Lisa DeBenedictis

Girl’s School Attacked in Pakistan


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

UNHRC: Disparities in Education Still Exist


By: Lisa DeBenedictis

In many countries, advancements in women’s rights have increased exponentially in recent years. And yet, disparities are still present, with some of the most pronounced in some of the South Asian countries that Barakat works with, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week, the United Nations Human Right’s Council (UNHRC) held its annual discussion on Women’s Human Rights in Geneva. At the conference, the organization was informed that the progress on gender equality in education is so stagnant that it will be very unlikely to reach the Millennium Development Goal of eliminating the disparities in education between men and women by 2040.

In her opening remarks, Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang stated that of the 130 million young people not in school, 70 percent are women.

At Barakat, we agree with the UNHRC that education is a human right that is freeing and empowering. Indeed, according to United Nations research: “Girls who are educated are likely to marry later, are better protected from a forced or early marriage, are likely to contribute to reducing the HIV/AIDS rate in their countries, will have fewer children and are less likely to suffer pregnancy-related complications or death…and when they are able to work, they are more likely than boys to invest most of it in their families.”

Though economic factors play a large role (poor families may not be able to afford to send any of their children to school, regardless of their sex), studies have shown that given the choice to either send a son or a daughter to school, the daughter is most often the one that has to stay home.

“Girls have been the first to be withdrawn from school, in order to help their families cope with the economic hardships,” said Kang.

Help Barakat enroll more young women in school. Donate now.