Category Archives: Pakistan

On the Love of Learning: Lyla Sees Dedication of Students in Pakistan Firsthand


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.


Lyla with male students at Barakat Evening Elementary School


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.”


Students at Barakat Evening Elemenatry School, ready to learn despite a long day


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!


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


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!

Lyla Goes to Pakistan!


Interim Executive Director, Lyla Hardesty is in Pakistan this month!

Barakat’s Interim Executive Director, Lyla Hardesty, left for Pakistan on Wednesday to do program assessment on Barakat’s 4 schools in Attock. Punjab province.   These schools, the earliest of which dates back to 1994 and altogether educate 800 students and include an evening school especially for girls. Additionally, these schools sport such facilities as a lending library, computer lab and qualified teachers educated at either the University of Punjab or Allama Iqbal Open University. All of these programs are administered through the local subsidiary organization, Barakat Pakistan.

Lyla’s visit will allow her to see the progress of these programs firsthand, as well as to understand what needs still need to be met. Barakat’s programs in Pakistan began to educate Turkmen refugees from Afghanistan who had significant trouble getting educated because of linguistic barriers. Throughout her three-week long journey, Lyla will be sending us descriptions of her adventures and we’ll be posting them right here! Stay tuned for stories and photos straight from Pakistan!

Food Crisis in Pakistan: Lasting Consequences of the Flood


While news sources from across the world have been relaying images of devastation back from Pakistan, only minor exposure has been given to the greater ramifications of these floods. This is perhaps a combination of the magnitude of the immediate disaster and our inability to speculate  how much damage will remain once the waters have receded. Currently, relief efforts must be geared towards making sure that people have been rescued from affected areas and that refugee populations have been given some place to settle in lieu of their ruined homes and farms. Branches of the UN and other NGO’s, as well as governments abroad have been tirelessly raising money in order to stabilize displaced populations, but according to Al Jazeera, an effort to rebuild Afghanistan could take up to $15 billion (USD) and countless years.

Food Shortages spark frustration in Pakistan, Photo credit: © United Nations World Food Programme/Amjad Jamal 2010

Despite the state of the flooding disaster, one of the most  jarring long-term aspects of this flood is the effect of the food crisis on young populations. Pakistan, previously heavily reliant on agriculture, is now experiencing severe shortages in  food and clean water thanks to the devastation of farmlands and seed deposits, plus the general state of chaos.  Such widespread shortages are leading to malnutrition, especially in children. Nutritionists with the United Nations World Food Programme have put together packages consisting of high energy biscuits, cooking oil and flour to sustain refugees in settlement camps. Getting resources to those in need continues to be a problem, however,  especially for those who are not admitted to camps because they  fled their homes without proper documentation, as the BBC reports.

The food shortages mark an even more difficult transition for displaced people, but also severely threaten a new generation of Pakistani young people. Martin Mogwanja, UN humanitarian co-ordinator told Al Jazeera, “If nothing is done, an estimated 72,000 children, currently affected by severe malnutrition in the flood-affected areas, are at high risk of death.” This speculation tells us that should consequences of the flood not be mollified as soon as possible, this generation of Pakistani children may not have the chance to become educated and raise their standard of living. Rights to education and economic empowerment cannot be realized until threatened sectors of the Pakistani populations can overcome these unsafe conditions and rebuild all that was lost. While activities here at Barakat are being directed towards flood relief, and our collected funds have been distributed to families in Attock, our long-term goals of greater education opportunities for women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India could be irreversibly stunted should external flood consequences like food shortages and spread of disease not be addressed just as swiftly.

If you’re interested in helping the thousands of women and children at risk for malnutrition and water-borne disease during this threatening time, DONATE to Barakat now and help abate this crisis before its damage becomes irreversible.

-Elizabeth Peyton

Displaced in Pakistan Seek Food, Shelter Among Barakat Community


Thousands of people are being displaced in Pakistan from what many experts are calling the worst monsoon floods in more than 80 years. Of those, nearly 600 have fled to the town of Attock in Punjab, the home-base of Barakat Pakistan’s schools and programs since 1994.

“These families are as newborns, with nothing to their name,” said Habibullah Karimi, Barakat’s co-founder.

Thousands of people are displaced from what many are calling the worst monsoon floods in over 80 years.

The estimated 75 families have come to Attock from the Azakhail Payon Afghan Refugee Camp in Nowshera, North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

“We survived only because we got on the train tracks and the roadways, which are on higher ground. And from there, we hitched rides away from the rising waters,” said one of the flood’s survivors.

As of now, many are staying in the homes of local relatives or friends in Attock. However, the local community is also made up of many refugees, and suffers from a poverty-stricken economy and a lack of resources, as it is.

Barakat is working closely with our Pakistani subsidiary  to — first and foremost– supply these families with food and cooking utensils, clothing, medicine and funds.

We also re-open our schools on August 15, and will welcome in the influx of children from these displaced families with open arms, but we’ll need to provide these students with uniforms, textbooks and other supplies.

In order to effectively provide food, shelter, medicine and clothing, as well as accommodate our schools, we at Barakat estimate that we will need to raise $10,000 for the victims of the flood.

So, we need your help! Please donate to Barakat now, and be ensured that our organization has been established in this community for over 16 years, and will use our first-hand knowledge to correctly allocate the donations to those who need them the most.

By donating now, you will help provide a safe, healthy environment for families escaping this disaster.

Written by: Lisa DeBenedictis

Flooding in Pakistan a Devastation, Barakat Prepared to Help


More than 900 people have died in what The New York Times is  calling “Pakistan’s worst monsoon flooding since 1929”.

In a country already stretched too thin with poverty and lack of resources, more than a million Pakistanis have been left homeless. And according to General Nadeem Ahmed, Pakistan’s head of national disaster management authority, over 58,800 homes have been destroyed.

Barakat has three elementary schools in the Attock province of Pakistan. Arti Pandey, the program direction of our Cambridge, Massachusetts office, has spoken with Barakat officials in Pakistan, and thankfully, no one in those communities, and none of our schools, has been affected by the flooding.

In the past, Barakat has gladly opened up our schools to victims of flooding in Pakistan; most recently during the flooding in 2005. Today we stand ready and willing to help again in Pakistan, and our hearts go out to each of the victims.

Click here to help Barakat help Pakistan.

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