Here’s the next installment in blog posts from Barakat’s interim executive director, Lyla Hardesty, in her three week journey to Pakistan:
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Zalifa,” came the confident but reserved reply.
“Zalifa, why are you in school today?” I asked.
Zalifa shot a quick glance at her teacher, her eyes asking if this was a trick question
“Because I want to learn to read,” she said.
Duh, she must have been thinking.
Ok fine, maybe it was a dumb question. But I wanted to hear it for myself, hear from Zalifa and Shukriya and Zara and all the rest that they were in school to learn. I talked with many girls like Zalifa this evening, girls who come scurrying into Barakat Elementary in their brightly colored clothing (and sometimes a little after the bell has rung) with books in hand, ready to learn. And I mean ready. Most of these girls have worked all day long weaving carpets with their families. Their fingers and eyes are tired, but their minds are sharp, and they love being in school. They love learning Dari, math and English. In fact, I’ve found more female math enthusiasts among the Afghan refugee community here than I’ve met in the last 10 years in the US. Not bad.
In the first class I introduced myself, telling students my name, where I’m from and why I’m in their class. Then I said:
“Miss Sumera [Barakat Pakistan’s Country Director] told me about you girls coming to school, and I was so excited to meet you, and now here I am.”
After this sentence left my mouth, I paused, overcome with emotion. Yep, I thought, that’s exactly why I’m here. Looking around the room I was moved by the dedication of these young women, some of them as old as 19 and married, all of them standing firm in the face of significant cultural opposition to sit in this classroom and learn to read.
No matter who I talk to here–Pakistanis, Afghans, teachers at other schools–the story is always the same. “Afghans here don’t usually send their children to school, especially their daughters, and especially Turkmen.” I have about 400 girls who would tell you differently.
Check out our website for more info on our programs! Check back for more updates from Lyla, as well as for updates on education and women’s issues in South and Central Asia!