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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Education at all costs

It takes 45 minutes to get to Soban Gali from Abbotabad city. The road ends where the hills get too rocky, and from there Samina Mumtaz’s house is a 5 minutes hike. Like all typical villages this is a close-knit community where traditional roles for men and women have been defined generations ago. Samina has lived here all her life.

According to Samina: “women (of the village) are considered to be a burden on their families and are mainly seen in the role of housewives. Women are restricted to their homes and education is not considered necessary for women”. Growing up in this rural setting Samina experienced this gender bias first hand.

Despite these obstacles Samina never for one moment felt inferior to any one in any way. As Samina puts it, her struggles and achievements are a testament to the fact that what a man can do a woman also do.

Being the driven individual she is Samina soon found her way to an Active Citizens capacity building workshop in Abbotabad organized by the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) – an Active Citizens partner. Among other things the four day training focused on areas that Samina was interested in such as gender sensitivity, and dialogue. On completion of her training Samina’s desire to work voluntarily for the betterment of her society found a new focus and direction.

With renewed energy Samina plunged into her pet project: a free school for the village children. For a few years now Samina had taught a few children of the village in a room of her house. Now she resolved to increase the number of her students and make their learning experience as fulfilling as possible.

There are no private or public schools within 10 Km of Soban Gali; parents have two options: either let their children walk for miles unattended or not send them to school. They usually choose the latter.

For Samina education has a special significance. She not only views education as an essential asset for all children but also sees it as a tool to empower women of her community in the long run – by not only educating them but also changing the mentality of the male residents of the village education and hence decreasing the gender bias prevalent in her community.

In the Active Citizens training programme Samina along with other participants explored dialogue and how powerful well thought out and executed dialogue could be. It was now time to put her learning to the test. She started a door-to-door campaign in her village to meet parents and discuss the importance of education with them, and encourage them to send their children to her school. She also developed links with another local NGO who promised to provide her with books and stationary for free.

Soon Samina saw the number of her students increase to 63. Out of these 63 students 35 are girls and 28 are boys. But it was not all smooth sailing; Samina faced resistance from some corners of the society who saw her as an agent of change. In their opinion Samina was trying to destroy the cultural norms and values of their society.

Another attitude prevalent in Samina’s community is the reliance on aid by donor agencies and NGOs. A large number of the village residents hold the view that being poor entitles them to monetary aid. Samina faced stiff opposition from this segment of the community as well.

Undeterred Samina carries on her mission to provide free and quality education. She views this as her responsibility towards the children of her village. She hopes that one day the situation of other communities and ultimately that of Pakistan will be improved by providing education to all segments of the society, and that progress will come through a participatory and self-reliant approach.


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