Educating children in Pakistan

By Genevieve Chabot

IQRA FUND

When Uzma was very young, she told her family, “I want to go, and I want to learn.”

Originally from a rural village in upper Hunza, Pakistan, Uzma, 17, is now attending school in Aliabad, 50 miles away.

“My father believed in me,” she says. “He said he would support me to come here and study, that once I came I would work hard and achieve my goals.”

Uzma and two other girls from neighboring villages, Faiza and Nelum, also 17, are three of the oldest students studying on scholarships from the Bozeman-based Iqra Fund, in Aliabad, in northern Pakistan. The girls have lived and studied together for four years, supporting one another in pursuing their dreams. Nelum and Uzma want to become doctors, while Faiza aspires to become a captain in the army.

Soft-spoken, yet quietly confident, they recall their daily routines and experiences before coming to Aliabad.

“After chapatti and milk tea I would put on my uniform and walk 30 minutes to school with my friends,” Faiza says. Her teachers were often absent or didn’t actively teach the students enrolled in her primary school.

“We would usually just sit for six or seven hours, and I faced many difficulties in my studies because of this,” she says. “After walking home and helping sometimes work in the fields with my mom, my cousin would help me study.”

Nelum and Uzma divided their time between studying and chores, as well as working in the fields.

“My elder sister always wanted me to help in domestic work and told me there is not always studying in our area,” Uzma says. “You have to work to make breads, dinner. But I wanted to focus on my studies.”

Nelum’s mother always told her daughter to study hard. Her father would say, “If you work hard, you can continue [studying].”

While all three girls miss their mothers, they say their hostel mother, Ms. Hussn, supports them.

“We provide an environment in which the girls study together, help one another, and respect each other,” Ms. Hussn says. “They show a lot of care with each other.”

The Attabad landslide that occurred in January 2010 makes the 80-kilometer journey to their home villages long and difficult. With few medical facilities in Hunza, it also makes access to quality medical care difficult for locals.

Thanks to the educations Nelum and Umza are getting, the region may have two more qualified doctors.

“I want to be a doctor in my region because there are no doctors there and so many problems,” Uzma says.

Genevieve Chabot is Executive Director of the Iqra Fund, a Bozeman-based nonprofit that provides educational opportunities for women and children in remote villages of northern Pakistan. This piece was adapted from one originally written for the organization’s February 2013 newsletter.