Tag Archives: Pakistan

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!

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Attacks on Education for Girls

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On January 1, a militant group from the Swat Valley in Islamabad, Pakistan attacked a van carrying employees from a community center, killing five female teachers and two aid workers. According to an article by the Associated Press, militants in this region of northern Pakistan have blown up schools and killed female educators because they view them as promoters of a foreign and liberal agenda.

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The attack serves as another reminder that the lives of women educators and aid workers in Pakistan are consistently at risk by Islamic militants who oppose their work. It also highlights the ongoing challenges that NGOs, like Barakat, continue to face in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the brave women educators and aid workers who lost their lives defending future generations’ rights to education. Barakat thanks the NGOs who continue to make a difference in this region and are proud of the educators and staff for their courage, dedication, strength, and leadership. We also are grateful for the local communities who support our three schools in Attock, Punjub.

Food Crisis in Pakistan: Lasting Consequences of the Flood

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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

Violence Toward Women Slowly Becoming Not OK in South Asia

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Passing laws against domestic violence may not guarantee safety for women in some parts of the world, but it is a start. Legislation has been proposed in Pakistan that would make domestic abuse illegal. It covers a broad spectrum of acts including emotional abuse, deprivation of financial means, and wrongful confinement. Currently, women can report their husbands for assault, but it is rarely punished and most often overlooked. This bill would go above and beyond covering atrocities such as acid burning, which is still extremely prevalent in Pakistan.

Another precedent was set in neighboring India last month, when the courts came down tough on the perpetrators of an honor killing. Five elders were sentenced to death or life sentences for killing a young man and woman of different sub-castes who eloped three years ago. Never before have the courts ruled so harshly on a practice that has, in the past, been considered a cultural practice. The five that were given the death sentence were the bride’s brother, cousins, and uncles. The local village administration leader was given a life sentence.

These actions are major steps toward insuring better protection of women in societies in which their intrinsic value may not be considered as great as men. However, these laws and legal precedents will only protect some, and often, those in rural areas will not benefit. Police officers tend to look the other way when horrific crimes are committed, especially in cultures like Pakistan, where ultra-conservative Islam prevails, and in India, where the caste system is still deeply engrained in societal values.

Many women in Pakistan continue to be victims of horrific abuse such as acid burnings. Their husbands and sometimes in-laws will throw acid on these women, horribly scaring them and sometimes causing blindness and permanent restrictions in movement. One woman recalled her crime for such a punishment: refusing to immediately wash the dishes after a meal.

Laws against domestic abuse will only go so far. One doctor suggested punishment for those who sell the acid as well. This is another positive step in the right direction, but even more must be done. The best way to improve the lives of these women is to improve their social standing. These areas are extremely poor and usually illiterate. Women who are victims of abuse often have no other choice but to stay with their husbands because of economic concerns. At Barakat we believe that women in Pakistan who are educated are much less likely to be victims of domestic abuse, or at the least, will not stick around in dangerous situations. If women understand their rights and their options, they hold the power to determine their futures.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, an organization based in Bangladesh, has helped some of these women restore their dignity. One woman has been learning to knit sweaters and can once again take care of her children despite damage to her eyes, which has left her completely blind. Another vows to open a beauty shop to prove to her husband and others that she is a survivor and the acid burning did not cause her to lose hope.

The Other Victims of Extremism–The Mothers

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In July of 2009, President Obama made a speech in Ghana in which he said, “It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars.” Although the conscription of children in wars is a phenomenon often associated with Africa, it is a problem that has infected many other areas of the world as well. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with other countries in the region, the use of children by extremist militants is systematic and disturbing.

Watching videos that depict the training of children to become “warriors,” it is hard not to ask yourself, “How could you ever send your son here?” That’s because from a western perspective, it’s incomprehensible. In these areas, however, families are so poor that it seems to them that the best future for their children is religious schools. These schools provide necessities that the parents sometimes can’t. Yet they sometimes also provide something else. A future headed toward hate and, death.

Of course, this is not always the case. In the West the term madrassa (which in Arabic literally means, a place where learning or studying is done) has gotten a negative connotation mistaken to mean “terrorist training camps.” But most madrassas are simply schools. Religious or secular, madrassa can refer to a variety of different kinds of learning institutions. They usually refer to schools that provide training to become imams, or religious leaders. A very small portion, however, are training children to become soldiers in a “holy war.”

In targeting the root of this problem, it would be difficult to go after those who run these schools. For them, the ideology is set, their mission seems clear, and if one “school” is destroyed another could easily pop up the next day. Targeting the values of a society would be the alternative. In an article by the Christian Science Monitor, mothers of children recruited for extremism in Pakistan’s South Waziristan express their concerns for their sons. Their placement in society as women of very conservative, traditional families makes their opinion stifled and suppressed. They are afraid to protest the action of family members, but do not agree with them.

Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, believes that educating women can transform these societies. Not only would education bring greater economic prosperity for their families and communities, it could also help change the currents of extremism that so brutally take hold of these areas. At Barakat, we agree. We believe that the best future for the children of these areas is one of hope, not one of ignorance. In our upcoming printed newsletter we also discuss how important educating boys is. These mothers currently cannot provide a better future for their sons. It may seem hopeless but it doesn’t have to be. Education can be the first step to a brighter future for these little boys and their mothers.

Pakistan’s Bold Fashionistas

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When you think of fashion, the first word that comes to mind probably isn’t brave. Here in the United States being a fashion designer may be hard work and may require a tremendous amount of creativity, but it doesn’t necessarily call for courage. In Pakistan, however, the faint-hearted need not apply.

Fashion week in Lahore, Pakistan just came to a close last Friday. The show was a tremendous success, and not only because a bomb didn’t go off. Some designers say that they weren’t even considering a terrorist attack. They brushed off the Western media for asking questions that seemed stereotypical. Not all of Pakistan is made up of terrorist, they reminded the camera crews.

The coordinators of the event were obviously more concerned about security, since intelligence officers and the bomb squad were both present, and the location of the event was not even listed on the invitations. According to one model, death threats were issued before the show. It was the first year in which the government supported the show, and recognized the Pakistan Fashion Design council. The show featured low cut, backless, and sleeveless outfits, showing just as much skin as any Western fashion show might. What was missing however, was the veil. Aamna Isani, a freelance fashion writer, noted that the show and the fashion it produced would only attract a small amount of women in Pakistan, mainly the elite. The irony, she said, was that the audience was more comfortable seeing skin, than the veil. Hopefully with more acceptance, these type of events can incorporate more traditional fashion as well.

Downplaying the statement that the designers and models at this fashion show were making would be a mistake. Before they were women confined to the home, flexing their bored and creative minds. Now they are bold professionals, showing the world their talents, despite the extremely high risk they are taking. Whether it is a woman in Afghanistan getting up every morning to educate herself, or a woman in Pakistan breaking the walls of a social taboo, it is a commendable act for them to exercise the freedom to pursue their dreams. Even in the most high-risk areas of the world.

Pakistani Women Role Models

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Who are our role models? 

Sometimes our role models are the people we see and spend time with everyday and sometimes they are just figures on TV or the Web.  Whoever they may be, we all have respect for them, they have influenced our lives in some manner, and they are an image that we look to.

Who do you look to when your world is compromised by violence and poverty?  Often in difficult situations, people who are successful through illegitimate means frequently become role models.   Women in Pakistan fortunately have many role models to look to even in difficult settings.

Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in late 2007, one might think that the number of women in high political positions have decreased due to extremism, fear, and conservatism, but there are still many women in high position that give hope to many and provide a positive influence on the young population of Pakistan.

In the Pakistani Senate, there are currently 18 women seated and the constitution requires that at least 17 women sit in the 100 seat Senate.  In the lower “house” of the Pakistani Congress, the National Assembly, there is a minimum of 60 seats reserved for women, and women currently fill 72 seats (out of 342, or 21 %).  To compare to the US, there are currently 17 women (out of 100) serving in the US Senate and 75 women (out of 435, 17%) in the US House of Representatives.

These congresswomen provide an image of women in power in the public sector.  Their mere presence in positions of power can have a positive effect, instilling an optimistic drive for young Pakistani women.

There are also women in power outside the public sector in high positions that provide a positive model for community building.  There are several women directors of NGOs working to help improve their country.  Women such as Jehan Ara (President Of Pakistan Software House Association), Sabeen Mahmud ( Director Peace Niche NGO), Rabia Gharib ( CEO of CIO magazine), Asma Jehnagir (Human Right Activist) and many more. These women not only represent the independent, enlightened and modern woman of Pakistan, despite the hurdles, but also act as role models to many young women looking to make a better Pakistan.

      

Jehan Ara             Sabeen Mahmud          Rabia Gharib              Asma Jehnagir