Education for All: Personal Success Stories from Lyla’s Visit to Pakistan

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Below is the next post in a series devoted to Barakat Interim Executive Director, Lyla Hardesty’s trip to Pakistan. In this post, Lyla hears personal success stories about education for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, as well as the debate revolving on whether parents should send their children to school instead of keeping them home to weave carpets and generate more income:

We were sitting on a beautifully handcrafted carpet in a room that boasted little else save a shelf with a few blankets.  This carpet would easily go for $1,000 if sold in the United States, but it was serving its purpose well here in the home of these Afghan refugees affected by the recent Pakistani floods.

“Of course we send our children to school,” declared one woman proudly.  “We want them to learn other languages and lead a better life than the one we live.”

“No,” said another on the other side of the room.  “I don’t send my children to school.  I need them at home to weave carpets.  We’re Turkmen, that’s what we do.”

The girls on the far left and right attend Barakat Elementary School. Their friend in the middle says that she does not want to go to school and would rather stay home and weave carpets, the main source of income for these families.

“But she is also a Turkmen,” piped in Basmina, one of my translators, motioning to another young woman in the room.  “And she is now in high school.  And her sister…”  Basmina paused dramatically, knowing that her next statement would take this mother by surprise.  “Her sister is in medical school in Rawalpindi.”

“Really?” said the mother, obviously surprised.

“Yes,” replied Haleema, now aware that all eyes were on her.  “Our family thinks education is very important, especially for girls.  My mother and father made it a priority for my family growing up, and now we’re waiting to get married until we’re done with school.  Weaving is still very important to my family, but my father knows that education will have a long-term impact on our lives.  And this is what I want, too.”

The women in the room sat back, pondering what Haleema had just said.  For these Afghan refugees, income generation requires all available resources, with boys and girls weaving carpets or selling vegetables from a young age.  The long-term benefit of education is not as important for many families, especially for girls.  A woman’s role is in the home, they believe, and there’s no reason for her to read or write.

This little boy proudly demonstrated his ability to write aleph, the first letter in the Urdu alphabet to his cousin, whose parents have not yet allowed her to start school.

The staff at Barakat has seen this change in the last 15 years.  Many children are now eager to slip on their smart blue and white checkered uniforms and carry backpacks with pencil and paper.  But fifteen years ago, the 22 students in Barakat Pakistan’s first class represented 22 hard-won steps towards education as a community value.  As more students like Haleema demonstrate the long-term benefits gained by education, more girls are declaring their own career aspirations–doctor and teacher being the two most popular–and asking their parents to send them to school with increasing success.  Our former students are some of our strongest advocates, too, visiting the schools and community to talk to parents about the value of education.

All of the students pictured here attend Barakat Elementary School.  Their mothers said they want their own children to have a better life than the one they themselves lead.

If you have thoughts about debates revolving around education, or have questions for Lyla about her trip, feel free to leave them below! You can also see Barakat’s website for more information or check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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