Category Archives: Pakistan

Global Giving Fundraising Campaign Launched!

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Global Giving Fundraising Campaign Launched!

We need help funding the security improvements we need to make to our schools in Pakistan. As a result we’re trying a new fundraising technique to us, we’ve launched a crowd funding campaign through Global Giving!  If you haven’t donated before, now is a great chance to give to a project that will have an immediate impact. The improvements range from hiring more security guards to installing gates and adding height to existing walls around the schools. Every dollar raised will make a difference!

 

Recent Events in Pakistan

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If you’re like us you’re constantly scanning international news sources looking for articles about Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we know most people aren’t usually looking for such specific articles. Recently there has been a lot of activity going on in Pakistan that has caught our attention so we decided to try and sum up some of the activity that has really caught our attention.

Back in February the Punjab Assembly ruled that all violence against women was a criminal act. This is a huge step towards women getting greater rights in a country where they previously had next to none. The bill called “Protection of Women against violence Bill 2015” outlines different resources now available for women who are victims of violence.

 “‘Violence’ itself has been redefined to mean any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abatement of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, stalking and cyber crime.” –Pakistan Today

The Prime Minister has also spoken out against honor killings, which is when families are allowed to kill women in their families that have brought disgrace on the family name and essentially make them disappear without retribution. There are thousands of women who are killed or go missing every year in Pakistan because of honor killings but the Prime Minister has finally spoken out saying that there is no honor in honor killings which is another huge step in changes in how women are treated in a country where they previously didn’t have a lot of rights. For more information check out this article.

Last month in the wake of the Brussels attack by ISIS there was another attack that didn’t gain as much media attention. This attack happened in Lahore, Pakistan this time it was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban against mainly Christians. Thankfully Lahore is on the other side of Islamabad from where our schools are in Attock City but it was a tragedy none the less. Over 70 people were killed and hundreds more were injured, majority of which were women and children. To learn more about the attack check out this article.

Recently, those of us in the west have primarily only heard about the different attacks that ISIS carries out but the Pakistani Taliban is also a very real threat to our students. Around the time of the attack in Lahore, the Pakistani government required Barakat to either increase security around our schools or close our doors. We chose to increase security so that our students could continue to gain an education even though it put a strain on our financials. Improvements to the schools included adding additional security guards at all buildings, installing security cameras, making the walls around the schools taller and installing gates. We did all of this to make school a safe place for our students to come and learn but we can’t do it alone!

Monsoon season is quickly approaching and we’re reminded of just how dangerous monsoons can be. This past weekend there was flash flooding in the provinces just north of our schools. Thankfully our schools were not affected but it was certainly a reminder of just how dangerous flash flooding can be. 53 people were killed and many more injured not to mention all of the houses and businesses that are now covered in mud from the flood waters. Summer monsoons are not far behind so it’s only a matter of time till we start seeing more stories like this one.

We hope you find these articles as interesting as we did!

 

 

Pakistan students take summer vacation!

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Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 3.15.38 PMEducation is a fundamental human right and we at Barakat hold firm to this belief; however, every student deserves a break! An exciting time of year unfolds in Pakistan as students embark on their well-deserved summer vacations. Barakat schools in Pakistan closed for summer break on June 1 and will resume next school year beginning August 16. Barakat Pakistan staff is also on holiday from June 13 through July 27.

Currently, our incredibly hard-working teachers are planning the school curriculum, reviewing the study plans, and arranging to add some extra-curricular activities to the mix! Our Barakat Pakistan staff takes this time to prepare for the perfect school year, even decorating classrooms with charts and drawings, decorations that will help the students acclimate and learn. Our teachers created fantastic decorations that are already brightening the classrooms!

picSharply contrasting the weather in Afghanistan, students in Pakistan find themselves largely home-bound as the temperatures can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit during these summer months! Nevertheless, students are eager to begin their summer festivities; many of the students and their families travel to Afghanistan during this time.

Not only has summer begun, but the Holy month of Ramadan will begin on June 19. Throughout the month following, all teachers and staff will join the students on holidays. As the climate can be dangerously warm, and Ramadan fasting limits the activities that our students and teachers can do, much of the vacation is spent busy at home, preparing for Eid.

Azizullah, from our fourth grade classroom, is excited to help his father tend to the vegetable shop, earning some extra money to spend at the Eid ul Fitr festival at the end of Ramadan. Fatima is excited to wear her gorgeous new dress for Eid, and spend the month in Afghanistan with her family. Ms. Mehnaz, teacher at the elementary school, expressed that the whole of Ramadan will be a busy time at home while fasting. During the teachers’ vacation, she will complete her household affairs that she was unable to tend to during the working months.

Students at our Barakat schools receive very few assignments to complete during their summer vacation. Between the heat of the summer and the busy time of Ramadan, teachers hope not to burden students with any heavy summer assignments. Instead, many students will relax throughout this break, or often travel to Afghanistan. Barakat staff in Cambridge wish our students and teachers a fun and relaxing holiday!

Education; a Turning Point for Tragedy

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The names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned here:

This is the story of a young couple. Like too many others, it ends in tragedy. Like too many others, it involves a woman regarded as a second class citizen. Her life is meaningless to those around her. But if they had valued her, for all she was worth, she may have been saved.

Sardar married Shahla when he was 16 years old. The two were matched beyond their will; she was only 13. They had two daughters and a son. Sardar, Shahla and their children lived with Sardar’s mother and his brother’s family. At the time this story took place, Sardar and Shahla had been married for 6 years. She was 19 years old…

Sardar was a farmer, but like many others he struggled with the burden of extreme poverty. Ultimately he was unable to support his family, so he traveled to another province to look for a job. It was difficult for him to find a job, as he was illiterate with no skills or education. Though he looked for many months.

After one particularly exhausting and long day, Sadar came home disappointed. The only thing on his mind was how he was to take care of his large family. The moment he returned home, he asked his mother about his wife. She did not realize the extent of her son’s exhaustion and unhappiness, nor did she realize the affect her words would have.

His mother ranted, “Your wife has been gone; shopping with your sister- in- law.” She complained despite the fact that it was the first time Shahla had gone shopping. The way his mother bitterly said this made it seem as though his wife had gone shopping everyday, neglecting her duties as a wife, while he was out looking for a job. In any household, this might seem like an insignificant bustle between husband and wife. In Sadar’s household, this one confrontation would have dire consequences.

Now infuriated, Sadar reacted by screaming at Shahla when she was back from shopping with her sister. He scorned her, telling her that as a housewife it is her responsibility to look after his family and his mother. This verbal reproach led to physical beating. As Sardar continued beating his wife, neither her sister nor his mother tried to stop him. By the time he was finished with her, she had so many broken bones and ghastly wounds that Shahla was rendered completely helpless. While she endured misery and abuse, no one was there to save her.

Shahla became ill for several days; she was left completely immobile from her husband’s beating. Her husband and in-laws refused to look after her or take her to the hospital. As a result of her injuries and neglect, she passed from this world and left behind two daughters ages four and two, and a five-month-old son.

This tragedy, though heartbreaking, is not uncommon. More women and girls have been killed in the last fifty years as a result of gendercide, than have been killed in all the battles of the twentieth century combined. In the far eastern countries like China and India, the practice of sex- selective abortion has been banned as a result of the gross disregard for the importance of female life.

Consider this story posted in Le Monde on March 28 about women in Afghanistan being imprisoned for ‘moral crimes’ such as running away from home and adultery. According to the Afghan government, this is a simple enforcement of Sharia law. However, Afghanistan is the only country in the world that interprets Sharia law this way. This gross misinterpretation has women being imprisoned because they lack rights as human beings.

There is a distinct connection of income, education, and the perpetuation of this old world treatment of women. In countries like Afghanistan, and Pakistan women are treated as possessions, and there is a well accepted belief that they are not worth the investment of an education. Instead, it is believed that their worth is at home and providing labor for menial work. Ironically, countries that invest in education for women are much better off. And that is the investment that Barakat is making to develop these countries to their full potential.

Thus, at Barakat we believe education is a human right.

“Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world. The question is not whether countries can afford this investment, but whether countries can afford not to educate more girls.” –Lawrence Summers, former chief economist of the World Bank.

Polio in Pakistan

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Over the past two decades, polio has been reduced by 99 percent around the world.  Today, it remains endemic in only four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.  While three of these countries are making tremendous progress to eliminate the disease, Pakistan is seeing a rise in infection rates.  Last year there were 144 registered polio cases, the highest number since 2000.

Children in Pakistan receive polio vaccines. Photo credit: Ground Report.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed the importance of polio eradication in his third annual letter released earlier this year.  Polio is an infectious viral disease that primarily affects young children and can lead to permanent paralysis.   It can also be prevented by vaccinations.

“Getting rid of polio will mean that no child will be paralyzed or die by this disease,” wrote Gates.  “Any major advance in the human condition requires resolve and courageous leadership.  We are so close, but we have to finish the last leg of the journey.”

In January, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari launched a National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication, a formal plan to eliminate polio in the country.  Shortly afterwards, Gates and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi each pledged $50 million to help polio vaccines reach 32 million children in Pakistan.

“Vaccines protect children from many life-threatening childhood diseases, providing the best way to give a child a healthy start to life,” said Gates. “This partnership is a powerful example of how collaboration by the global community can help build a healthier, more stable future for Pakistani children, their families and communities.”

The benefits of immunizing more children go beyond preventing the spread of polio.  A recent study by the non-profit organization Kid Risk estimated that polio eradication could save the world up to $50 billion in reduced treatment costs and productivity gains.

“If societies can’t provide for people’s basic health, if they can’t feed and educate people, then their populations and problems will grow and the world will be a less stable place,” Gates wrote.  “Whether you believe it a moral imperative or in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest, securing the conditions that will lead to a healthy, prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share.”

Rising Malnutrition in Pakistan

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UNICEF announced on Friday that survivors of last year’s deadly floods in Pakistan are now facing another tragedy as rates of malnourishment in children are skyrocketing in affected areas. According to a report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “six months on from Pakistan’s deadly floods, nearly a quarter of children in the worst-hit province of Sindh remain acutely malnourished.” According to the government of Sindh, this amounts to 90,000 children between the ages of six months and five years.

Pakistani children

Children in the flooded region of Pakistan

These malnourished children are a symptom of a larger problem – to provide relief to the 20 million people affected by the floods. The UN issued a call for $2 billion in emergency relief in September but has only raised about half that amount so far. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Rauf Engin Soysal, the UN’s Special Envoy for Assistance to Pakistan said that only 39 percent of early recovery projects have been funded, adding that the remaining billion dollars in relief is “urgently needed.”

While the initial fear of waterborne diseases may have faded, new crises now loom. With 1.7 million homes damaged and 5.4 million acres of arable land affected, getting the country’s agricultural sector back on track is a priority. To that end, Soysal announced that the UN was “providing them [farmers] with seeds, fertilizers and tool to accelerate the rehabilitation process.” As this process continues, seven million people remain dependent on monthly food rations to survive.

This announcement will hopefully refocus international attention on the need for a sustained commitment to Pakistan. With the country’s own government facing massive budgetary shortfalls and the international community struggling to respond to more and more disasters in a time of less and less money, the onus falls on common citizens of all countries to step in and extend a sorely-needed hand of friendship to their Pakistani brethren.

-Faris Islam

The Roots of Change: Lyla Speaks with Barakat Alumni about Problems and Solutions for Afghanistan

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Check out this great post from the field – Lyla sat with former Barakat students and got their points of view on issues in Afghanistan, and what change in the future will look like:

How many of us can say we stay in touch with our elementary schools? One of my tasks in Pakistan is to meet with some of Barakat’s former students.  In my first blog I wrote about the way many of these students use Facebook to stay in touch with their alma mater.  On Sunday I got to meet a few of them.

 

Education will give this generation of Afghan children in Pakistan the chance to strengthen their communities and solve social problems.

 

Naveed is a well-spoken young man of 18.  He is in high school and wants to become a pediatrician.  Next to him sat Abdul Mujid, recently married and with hopes of becoming an engineer.  Finally there was Saeed Ullah, who is also finishing high school and wants to become a wrestler.  He names Arnold Schwarzenagger as his biggest role model.

In introducing themselves to me, each of them talked about their hopes for the future of their country.  Naveed and Abdul Mujid both hope to promote education.  Saeed Ullah hopes to follow in Arnold’s footsteps and enter politics after a successful career as a pro wrestler.

When I asked them about their country’s past, they listed illiteracy and poverty as some of its greatest challenges.  The Taliban used to scare people away from school, they told me, especially girls.  “Our parents’ generation tells us many stories about what Afghanistan was like in the past, but all the stories are sad.”

“And what about the future?” I asked. “What stories do you and your friends share about Afghanistan’s future?”  I was met with three blank stares.

Naveed looked at his friends and smiled, realizing I didn’t understand.  We don’t talk about the future of Afghanistan together, he said.  “I’ve only been there once.  How can I say what should or shouldn’t happen?”  Abdul Mujid and Saeed Ullah nodded in agreement.  “We’ve hardly seen Afghanistan.  When we bring it up in conversation, people tell us to stop talking because we don’t know [the situation].”

If I got that response every time I talked about the future of my country, I’d probably stop talking, too.

Later on I posed the same question to another former Barakat student.  He tried patiently to paint the picture for me.

“Let’s say you are an American but lived your whole life in Pakistan.  You were born and raised here.  Should you be the one planning America’s future?” he asked.

While I see his point, I believe the situation for Afghanistan is different. 3.6 million Afghans currently live outside of Afghanistan –  many fled as a result of the Soviet Invasion in the  of Afghans have fled their country over the last four decades, and many more have been born on foreign soil.  But just as this does not make them less Afghan – it does not rob them of the right, no, the responsibility, of dreaming about their homeland’s future.  Together.

Back to the three young men who sat in front of me: all of them have individual hopes for their future.  They see what kind of opportunities education has afforded them, and they want this for all Afghans.  But they’re not yet dreaming together.

“If you aren’t dreaming about Afghanistan’s future with each other, who is?”  Again I was met with silence.

“If you aren’t, you can be sure that someone else is,” I went on.  “And you may not like what they plan.”

“That’s true,” said Naveed eventually.  “It’s just not something we talk about together.”

Each of these young men has a dream about what their future will look like.  All of them want to return home eventually, to a country they’ve barely seen but which is still theirs.  Their dreams are individual, as are all of ours to some extent.  We start dreaming about what we know, what we can control.  Most eighteen-year-olds don’t feel like they can control a country ravaged by generations of war and “help” from its neighbors far and wide, these three included. But eventually, I suspect their desire to provide the next generation with a better life than they have–which is how each of them ended up in a Barakat school, incidentally–will draw them from their individual dreams to a communal dream.

I’m looking forward to what a doctor, an engineer and a pro-wrestler cum politician can do together.