CAI Communiqué (Blog)
Welcome to CAI’s blog. This is where CAI will post news items and stories about what is happening with the organization both stateside and overseas! Please send any comments or questions to email@example.com.
Welcome to CAI’s blog. This is where CAI will post news items and stories about what is happening with the organization both stateside and overseas! Please send any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Central Asia Institute’s database manager, I am the lucky person who sees the generosity and thoughtfulness of our supporters every day. I hear and read CAI supporters’ stories about why they are passionate about girls’ education and peace in the communities where we work. I receive the handcrafted cards from Florence in Washington each month. I read letters from motivated teenagers like Amy in Massachusetts, who grew up volunteering for her father’s non-profit. I am humbled to hear from young students who donate their birthday money to support Pennies for Peace.
It is inspiring that so many people take the time out of their busy lives to give. Give their time, compassion, and money to support CAI’s mission in Central Asia. We at CAI are thankful for our supporters – thank you for giving, and helping create a better world for so many.
Thanksgiving is a time to give, be thankful, and spend time with family and friends. But it has also turned into a time of consumption and materialism. Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving Day, and for some, the whole holiday is centered on shopping.
Last year, Giving Tuesday was started to create a day of giving that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The idea is to inspire people to give to their cause of choice. Today is Giving Tuesday and we want you to be a part of it.
Donations to CAI go toward supporting community-based projects in remote areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. If you did shop on Black Friday, the money you saved could send a girl to university, or provide clean drinking water for an entire community. Giving just a little this Giving Tuesday could be the first step toward educating a girl, and empowering a community.
If you can’t donate today, you can still give – volunteer, start a Pennies for Peace drive, or post an #UNselfie to promote Giving Tuesday. Give back to the world around you in some way today. It will make a difference.
To donate to CAI, click here.
For more information on Giving Tuesday, visit www.givingtuesday.org.
QUOTE: We only have what we give. – Isabel Allende
- Laura Brin, CAI’s database manager
Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States that dates back to colonial times, a time to count our blessings and express our thanks.
It was the first U.S. president, George Washington, who proclaimed in 1789 that “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”
Nearly 70 years later, as the American Civil War raged on, then-President Abraham Lincoln set aside the final Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day. In a 1863 proclamation, Lincoln urged Americans to give thanks for their numerous blessings, remember the “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged,” and pray to God “to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it [to] … peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”
In recent years, the holiday has evolved into a more secular celebration for many Americans, complete with football games, parade, and lavish family dinners. Yet it remains centered around gratitude.
With all that in mind, we at Central Asia Institute have been reflecting on what we’re grateful for. Throughout November we have posted those reflections on our Facebook page (click to see those posts, along with photos and supporters’ comments and contributions to the conversation). But here are the highlights:
• We’re grateful for the determined children learning to read and write in CAI-supported schools.
• We’re grateful for small donkeys, those beasts of burden that help carry the load for children and adults throughout the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, & Tajikistan.
• CAI is grateful for friends, those people who stick with us through thick & thin, make us laugh, hold our hands, and know our hearts.
• We are especially grateful for teachers, those patient and persistent people who educate, encourage, and inspire us. They teach us to think. And they light up the world.
• We are grateful for music, the language that goes beyond words, that touches us in ways nothing else can. Music inspires, comforts, calms, enthralls, and connects us. And it makes us want to dance.
• And we are thankful for mountains. As Jill Wheeler said, “Mountains have a way of humbling us, if we accept the opportunity. Mountains have a way of connecting us to ourselves, nature and to others, by simply being out there. Mountains have a way of challenging us so we learn we can handle more, achieve more and feel stronger.”
We are also grateful for our supporters, people who believe every child should learn to read and write, and who believe in the power of education to change the world.
Thank you, tashakur, shukria.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.
QUOTE: In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
EDITOR’S NOTE: David Starnes recently returned from his first visit to Afghanistan as Central Asia Institute’s executive director, a position he has held since March 2013. Here he shares some of his thoughts, impressions, and reflections.
A lasting impression from my recent visit to Afghanistan was inspiration: from those who built these schools and the students who continue to endure great hardship to attend the schools and receive an education.
One striking example of this came during my visit to a CAI-supported school south of Kabul (the exact location cannot be disclosed due to safety and security reasons). The school had been badly damaged by a truck bomb that exploded nearby. The explosion left behind shattered windows and damaged doorways, a reminder of the extent to which violence is still prevalent in the areas where we work.
The school was closed until the repairs could be made; however, since all schools in Afghanistan become the property of the Afghan government, it is still unknown how long it will be until the students return.
While we toured the school, gunfire erupted near us. We were standing in the front entrance area when the bang of rifles and staccato of automatic weapons echoed around the area — most likely a gun battle between police and militants.
We left the village and drove to another CAI school atop a hill, overlooking the community we had just left. This time, students were present and talked to us about their school. We asked them about the fighting in the area, and they freely shared that fighting occurred almost daily and that it was common for stray bullets to strike the school. When asked if that scared them, they shrugged and said it is the way things are. It is simply part of the risk that they take to come to their school.
Many of us take our education in the United States for granted, but in Afghanistan, many students have to fight for the right to a basic education. Some students are forced to earn their way to be allowed to attend school. Others have to overcome violence and neglect. Still others are forced to adopt basic survival skills in the war zones that they call home. But they do all of those things because they value literacy and knowledge. They are willing to put their lives on the line to receive their education.
- David Starnes, CAI’s executive director
A year ago today we lost our dear friend and colleague Sarfraz Khan. There are no words to express how much we miss him, his sense of humor, his energy, and his tireless determination to help CAI make the world a better place. We think about him every single day.
On this day, we’d like to honor his memory by sharing a poem written by several CAI-supported scholarship students in northern Pakistan. These young women read the poem aloud during a ceremony in Gilgit, Pakistan, in May.
The moment when the lamp extinguished
The earth wept. The skies cried.
The earth has since been weeping.
The sky has since been crying.
If we were asked to make a wish,
The wish would be to have you back.
Our eyes full of fear, our hearts thumping fast
We have left our worries in the past
And there’s nothing to fear
But why we are so scared?
Life shattered in front of us
Dreams scattered on the floor
All the hopes and dreams we had with you
Have no meaning any more
We have lost ourselves, deep taken in, by all the sorry
In the unfathomable oceans of woes
We walked towards the beacon
But it dimmed and going to be our
It again shone
We wanted to get caught
But it was gone.
We are the glamour of today
Our life complete cessation
But your glimmering guidance endless
And your shining star ceaseless
Akin sweet temptation
Indeed your guidance endless
Moments that we spend together
Your love was so warm, like a father
But never forget you, ever and ever
So hard to find, a devotee as you
Little drops of water, rolling down our face
Full of deep emotions, extreme pain their base
We try our best not to cry
But they fertile the soul, that is so dry.
Our silence inside us engulfs us like a bug
Our injured esteem, hurts with people’s tug.
He is popular
He is a flower of heaven
He is lighting our lives
Such a great person
God has gifted you a wisdom
We love you.
The way of education you have shown.
You have shown us right path.
You are a loyal
You are the crown of our heads.
You have given a good chance to get the education.”
Composed by: Shabana Jabeen, Ghazala Naz, Naila Jabeen, Naseem Bari & Rahima Naz
- Compiled by Karin Ronnow / Photos by Ellen Jaskol
Central Asia Institute (CAI) has released the Annual Report for the fiscal years ended September 30, 2012 and 2011. The report summarizes CAI’s financial statements and programs, and illustrates how your support continues to further our mission.
As I noted in my annual report message, I am just settling back into my office in Bozeman, Montana, after a four-week tour of Afghanistan, where I made extensive visits to schools, women’s centers, and community-based projects. This trip came on the heels of my June trip with Greg Mortenson to Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported schools and projects in Pakistan.
The scope and scale of CAI’s work in some of the most remote and dangerous areas of the world is inspiring. Schools that were originally started years ago with 20 or 30 students now have hundreds of students. Young girls, who 10 years ago were prevented from attending schools, now make up the majority of students in many schools. We are honored and proud that, with your support, CAI delivers hope to children, women, and their families in underserved areas of Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.
The past two years have been a time of controversy, change, and transition for CAI. While continuing to support hundreds of schools and projects overseas, CAI staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to improve CAI’s operations and procedures to ensure that the wishes, intents, and trust of our donors and the best interests of our beneficiaries are our highest priority. Just a few highlights include:
1. CAI has completed all actions required under the Agreement of Voluntary Compliance—a document signed by CAI and the Montana Attorney General’s Office in 2012 that outlined corrective measures and monitoring procedures.
2. Expansion of our Overseas Grantee Monitoring program, with independent accountants now reviewing CAI-funded projects and grantees’ activities in all three countries.
3. Completion of the independent financial audit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012.
4. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision to dismiss with prejudice a lawsuit claiming damages against CAI and Greg Mortenson over Three Cups of Tea.
Looking ahead, CAI will continue to focus on sustainability and improving the quality of CAI-supported schools and projects through teacher trainings, scholarships, curriculum enhancement, provision of school supplies, and expanded training for community health workers. While that means fewer new schools in the near future, it reflects a commitment to an improved educational experience for all students. Like you, we want to insure that the young girls and boys we serve will live out their dream of getting an education—and that they can go on to become the next generation of locally educated doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, agriculturalists, engineers, lawyers, pilots, policewomen, professors, and more.
On behalf of CAI’s Board of Directors, staff, and the communities we serve, thank you for your continued dedication to the mission of peace through education.
- David Starnes, CAI’s Executive Director
The 2014 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar has gone to press and Central Asia Institute is now taking preorders.
This year, photographer Erik Petersen and CAI Communications Director Karin Ronnow documented CAI projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The calendar includes stunning photography of CAI projects, plus explanations of CAI’s programs and a map of the areas we serve.
The stories will be published in the upcoming “Journey of Hope,” which is scheduled for an early December distribution.
Each calendar is $10, with delivery available by early December.
Proceeds from all calendar sales help CAI carry out its mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
Order yours now. CAI calendars make great gifts, and help us spread the message of peace through education.
As always, thanks for your support.
- CAI staff
Sneak peek at what’s inside:
Central Asia Institute wishes everyone a blessed Al Hijra (Islamic New Year)!
Al Hijra is the first day of the Islamic New Year. It marks the day when Mohammad began his migration from Mecca to Medina to establish the first Islamic state in Islamic Year 1 (AD 622).
For Muslims, the New Year is not a holiday with a lot of traditions or rituals, although some individuals make resolutions and use it as a time of self-reflection.
“We seek forgiveness on shortcomings of the past,” Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, the city’s largest mosque, told odysseynetworks.org. “And we are being thankful for the good we already achieved or obtained in the past. At the same time, we are putting our new visions and renewed commitment to do better in our coming days.”
Not everyone agrees on the precise date for Al Hijra, as the Islamic lunar calendar typically has several variations by region.
Like the Gregorian calendar, the Islamic calendar consists of 12 months, according to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. However, each month starts with the sighting of the crescent moon and is 29.5 days long. The Islamic calendar year, then, is 354 days long, 11.25 fewer days than a Gregorian calendar year.
This year’s holiday marks the start of the year 1435.
Many Islamic countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, use the Islamic calendar alongside the Gregorian calendar. Muslims everywhere use it to determine the proper days on which to observe the annual fast of Ramadan, attend Hajj and celebrate other Islamic holidays.
QUOTE: We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. – Edith Lovejoy Pierce
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
After waiting weeks for the fighting to abate, a Central Asia Institute team has safely delivered a truckload of humanitarian aid to a small mountain village in northeast Afghanistan that was buried by a landslide in September.
Five people were killed when heavy rains triggered the massive slide, sending boulders, rocks, dirt, and mud down the mountainside onto Eskitol village in Badakhshan province, said Janagha Jaheed, one of CAI’s Afghan community program managers. The landslide also destroyed homes, fields, bridges, and roads.
“The people, especially the women, were very much happy about receiving the support and said CAI is the first organization that could reach them and get into this remote area,” Jaheed said. “They particularly mentioned that the food package and tents and blankets they received are very helpful because they have lost their houses and all tools. Also the weather here is getting cold and the women and children were getting sick and suffering due to being out in the open space and having no good food.”
CAI learned of the disaster from Jaheed, who e-mailed the Bozeman office. “A mountain slide started over Eskitol village at 9 o’clock at night and continued until 9 o’clock the next morning,” he wrote. “As result of this phenomenon, five people were found dead, but 15 more are still not found.
“Forty houses are totally eliminated,” Jaheed wrote. “More than 300 goats, sheep and cows of the local people have been killed, 900 bags of cement from the National Solidarity Program are also lost and almost 100 acres of land … is changed to flood field and has become useless. The power station of the village is also eliminated; three bridges are totally destroyed; and the road to Eskitol remote village is cut. Those who are alive have been carried to an open and wide dessert.”
CAI does not have a school in Eskitol, although village leaders have requested one. Those same leaders helped us in 2010, when CAI built a school in nearby Sangliche, “one of the most remote and isolated villages of Zebak district, just about 20 kilometers to Pakistan border,” Jaheed said. Nimatullah, an Eskitol elder, helped with preparations and logistics for the CAI team’s journey, collecting 12 donkeys to carry people, building and school supplies, “a real journey of hope,” he said.
Now Nimatullah and his extended family are homeless, Jaheed said. So much “has gone under the flood and is lost,” he said. “They are in a very bad condition.”
Zebak District Education Director Abdul Majeed Khan was the first government official to cross the river and visit the disaster area. He told Jaheed about the situation with the local school: “They had a small area with three tents set up as a primary school, but the flood and landslide, unfortunately, have completely removed the field and tents. As the phenomena started at night and students were not at school, no student has been killed there. But right now not only students, but all children need urgent help and aid like food and clothes.”
Delivering aid was to the beleaguered villagers was complicated by fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban in Warduj district, adjacent to Zebak.
But the CAI team made it to Eskitol with a truckload of tents, blankets, and food on Oct. 2. Jumah Gul, CAI field manager in Zebak, and Mahbobullah, administrative/finance officer in Baharak, led the disaster relief delivery effort.
“It took place in the time when Taliban were all around the mountains of Eskitol village and there was much security risks in the area while our team was getting in there, according to Zebak district Gov. Mir Ahmad Shah Zigham,” Jaheed said. “But they did not stop. They got there and did their noble job.”
Each family received a tent, blanket, and a package of food that included flour, rice, oil, tea, and sugar.
QUOTE: What is the use of living, if it not be to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? – Winston Churchill
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution in 2011 setting aside October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. The intent is to call attention to girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
Today, during this second annual celebration, the focus is on “Innovating for Girls’ Education”.
As the UN noted, girls’ education “is the one consistent positive determinant of practically every desired development outcome.” Yet, as the UN also noted, “many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of this basic right.”
Central Asia Institute joins people around the world in honoring girls as we continue to work for the right of every child to get an education and pursue her dreams.
Help us spread the word by sharing our post on Facebook or Twitter.
- Central Asia Institute
BOZEMAN, Mont. – Central Asia Institute was pleased to learn Wednesday that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has dismissed the purported class-action lawsuit against it and CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson.
The federal appeals court ruling upholds U.S. District Court Judge Sam E. Haddon’s dismissal of the case with prejudice in Great Falls, Mont., in May 2012.
A three-judge appeals panel ruled that the plaintiffs’ “conclusory statements and minimal factual allegations” on the allegations of fraud, deceit, racketeering, or breach of contract were vague and insufficient, according to court documents.
Also, “the [lower] court acted within its discretion in dismissing the complaint and denying leave to amend. Plaintiffs have already had multiple opportunities to amend, even after the defects in the pleadings were identified in extensive briefing[s].”
U.S. Appeals Court Judges Barry G. Silverman, William A. Fletcher, and Consuelo Maria Callahan unanimously agreed the case was “suitable for decision without oral argument” and concluded: “The district court properly dismissed the complaint.”
“Clearly I’m pleased with the court’s decision,” said CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett. “I’m also happy to report that we have satisfactorily completed all specific actions outlined in the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance that CAI signed with the Montana Attorney General’s office in 2012.”
The AVC was part of a 2012 settlement agreement following the AG’s inquiry into allegations that CAI had, over a period of years, failed to maintain adequate financial controls, governance, and stewardship processes. CAI has since made numerous internal changes. The AG’s office has indicated it is satisfied and did not propose any action beyond those enumerated in the AVC.
“The conclusion of both of these weighty matters – the appeal and the AVC requirements – allows CAI to rededicate its energy and resources to the important work of promoting education, especially for girls, in remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. As we’ve said before, no other NGO does what we do in these locales with such a small team of dedicated individuals.”
CAI has worked with communities in these mountainous regions for 17 years to build and/or support nearly 300 schools, 42 women’s literacy and vocational centers, 10 scholarship programs, 31 public health (potable water, midwifery, and disaster-relief) projects, and more than a dozen community programs.
CAI staff is available to answer any questions or concerns. Please contact us at email@example.com.
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Central Asia Institute Cofounder Greg Mortenson just wrapped up his second visit to Baltistan, in Northern Pakistan, this year to visit schools, students, teachers, and old friends.
Accompanied by Mohammad Nazir, our community project manager in Baltistan, and a small crew of CAI supporters and volunteers, he spent three weeks traveling the back roads of Baltistan. He visited some of CAI’s oldest projects in the Shigar, Braldu, and Hushe valleys, and met with leaders in communities seeking CAI’s help with education for the first time.
Asked about his impressions, he offered this quote from Edward Kennedy: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die.”
Here are some photos from Greg’s September education expedition. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do.
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Photos speak to people in unanticipated ways. Because they have the power to reach beyond words to tell a story, photographs can provoke emotion and create connections. And they can inspire.
Ellen Jaskol’s photos in Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) 2012 “Journey of Hope” calendar so inspired artist Gillian Shearer of Australia that she replicated one in an art quilt.
“I enjoy creating art quilts of people, especially children,” Gillian wrote to Ellen in an email, asking permission to use a particular photo. “I love all of the images you took from your time there and it was hard to pick just one.”
The one she chose was the calendar cover photo of two schoolgirls, an image Ellen captured in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor in September 2011.
“I am so touched that Gillian chose to do a quilt from this photo of the two schoolgirls,” Ellen said. “Of all the thousands of photos I’ve made of Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think she picked my absolute favorite image.”
After getting Ellen’s permission, Gillian stitched the 125-by-83-centimeter quilt entitled “If You Educate a Girl You Educate a Village,” with the intent of entering it in an Australian quilting contest this fall.
Gillian’s use of vibrant colors juxtaposed with shadows, the lifelike hair, fingers and toes, and the determination depicted in the young girl’s eyes convey the power of education to inspire hope.
“I lost count of how many hours it took in the end, and how many tiny pieces of fabric it took to make the girls!” she wrote. “It’s been one of the most tedious quilts I’ve made but certainly one I’ve had the most joy in creating.
“I’ve had lots of nice comments and really enjoy explaining the story behind it,” she added. “I hope I did it justice.”
We think she did a terrific job. Or, as Ellen said, “Wow!”
Good luck in the Queensland Quilters competition, Gillian.
QUOTE: If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint. – Edward Hopper
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Afghans hold poetry in high regard. But if you want a glimpse into the private lives of mostly illiterate Pashtun women, get your hands on a copy of Poetry Magazine’s June issue. It is dedicated to landays, the two-line, 22-syllable Pashto poems of life and death, love and war, laughter and loss.
“This is rural folk poetry,” Eliza Griswold, a journalist and poet who worked with photographer Seamus Murphy to collect the landays and share them with an international audience, said in an interview on PBS’ News Hour.
Many landays reflect painful realities of Pashtun women’s lives:
“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”
“You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.”
Others have a modern twist, Griswold noted. “Women have recited these poems for centuries,” she told PBS. “So they have gone from talking about the riverbank, which is the place you gather water – and, of course, the place men go to spy on the women they have crushes on – to Facebook, to the Internet. And so they really reflect the currents that women in Afghanistan are encountering today.”
“How much simpler can love be?
Let’s get engaged now. Text me.”
The couplets are passed along orally, often to music, and in some cases for generations. “This is poetry that’s meant to be oral. It’s passed mouth to mouth, ear to ear,” Griswold said.
The result is that landays “belong to no one and everyone,” Murphy wrote in an essay on the project.
But they are also anonymous, to protect the female poets, who risk their lives to write, sing, and share the poems. Griswold actually got the idea for this project after she wrote a magazine article about a young woman who’d been beaten for writing poems and later killed herself.
Murphy recalled: “A group of women from Helmand discussing landays in a refugee camp insisted on burying Eliza’s mobile phone in a sea of cushions to ensure no recording could be made of their voices. They didn’t want recognition. They said they could be murdered if their husbands knew what they were discussing with outsiders. The significance of this separates our worlds.”
Yet the two were determined to collect and translate the poems before international forces leave the country in 2014. With the help of a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, they made several trips to Afghanistan and women and girls singing the landays in their homes, at weddings, in refugee camps.
“Pull that burka back, and [a Pashtun woman] will talk to you about the size of her husband’s manhood,” Griswold told PBS. “She will go right for it: sex, raunch, kissing, rage. She will talk about the rage of what it is to be cast in this role of subservient, in a way that’s really startling.”
“Your eyes aren’t eyes, they’re bees
I find no cure for their sting.”
“I could have tasted death for a taste of your tongue,
watching you eat ice cream when we were young.”
Murphy wrote that the poems helped him to understand the strength of Afghan women: “I discovered landay poetry through the book, “Songs of Love and War,” a collection sourced and edited by the eminent Afghan poet and philosopher Sayd Bahodine Majrouh. Landays were couplets that had the ache and anger of simple truth. They barely or rarely mentioned God and left me feeling I was being profoundly changed. That they reportedly came from mostly illiterate Pashtun women leading oppressive lives in rural areas made them even more remarkable. A hidden world opened up; it was like rediscovering Afghanistan.”
The structure of the poems is always, in Pashto, two lines and 22 syllables: nine syllables in the first line and 13 in the second, Griswold wrote in the introduction to the collection.
“Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief or love.”
“I call, you’re a stone.
One day you’ll look and I’ll be gone.”
“Be black with gunpowder or blood red,
but don’t come home whole and disgrace my bed.”
The poems also offer a unique insight into how the women view the war.
“There’s a lot of anger at the Taliban, a lot of rage at the hypocrisy of the Taliban, and an equal amount, if not more, rage at the hypocrisy of the Americans and what their influence has left behind,” Griswold told PBS.
“May God destroy the Taliban and end their wars.
They’ve made Afghan women widows and whores.”
“My Nabi was shot down by a drone.
May God destroy your sons, America, you murdered my own.”
Ultimately, the landays demonstrate the irrepressibility of the human spirit.
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
We especially remember and give thanks for the humanitarians and aid workers, who have given their lives in the service of our fellow human beings.
The idea to have a World Humanitarian Day, and the month-long observation that follows, began after the tragic Aug. 19, 2003, murders of 22 aid workers at the United Nations office in Baghdad, Iraq. The goal is to increase awareness of the dedicated people, organizations, and communities that help people in distress due to disaster, exploitation, and neglect.
In 2008, there were more than 210,000 humanitarians working around the world, according to the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance. However, in my opinion, there are actually millions of men and women who are dedicated to the service of others and hope to make the world a better place, including teachers, healthcare workers, human-rights activists, social workers, environmental activists, mediators, and volunteers.
Most humanitarians are passionate about their work, and feel it is a labor of love, or a calling, rather than a mere job. And in some parts of the world, dedicated humanitarians put their lives on the line in their service of others.
Although the news media often covers the murders of professional aid and development workers, many more humanitarians die in relative obscurity. Their poignant stories – especially those of the women in Afghanistan and Pakistan –resonate in my heart today, and I want to share a few with you.
In 2007, Zakia Zaki, the founder of “Radio Solha” or “Radio Peace” in Afghanistan’s Parwan province was killed in her bed at night, along with her 2-year-old daughter. Zakia, who was also a primary school principal, used the radio, which is often the only form of media in rural areas, to highlight violence and oppression against women, which put her on top of the Taliban’s hit list.
A year later, Belqis Mazlomyar, a female activist who helped empower Afghan refugee women through literacy, micro-credit and other programs, was killed by her stepbrother. Belqis was working in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistan border, and had continued her work despite death threats from men and religious leaders who were opposed to her assistance for widows and single mothers. Although her five children were devastated when Belqis was killed, her youngest daughter has resolved to follow her mother’s path and also be a humanitarian worker.
Hanifa Safi, a 51-year old human rights activist, was killed in Afghanistan’s Laghman province in July 2012, when the Taliban exploded an improvised bomb under the hood of her car. Her crime, according to the Taliban, was that she did not stay home and be a good wife, and instead became a public official, providing legal advocacy for female victims of domestic violence and abuse.
Sima Akakhel, a young girls’ school principal at Ahmad Shah Durrani Girls’ High School in Afghanistan’s Balkh province, was brutally murdered in her home on Aug. 10, 2012 during the fasting month of Ramadan, while her husband and father were praying at a local mosque. She was a fierce advocate of girls’ education in rural areas who, despite constant threats and harassment, never stopped trying to get every girl possible into school.
In March this year, a girls’ schoolteacher, Shahnaz Nazli, 41, was shot dead in Shahkas, near the town of Jamrud in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal district, between the northwestern city of Peshawar and the Afghan border. Despite having a low salary, and despite repeated family requests for her to stop teaching, Shahnaz had a strong conviction that her life’s calling was to teach. She paid with her life.
In May 2013, women’s activist and politician Zahra Hussain, 67,was shot in the face and killed by drive-by assailants as she left her home in Karachi, Pakistan. Zahra encouraged women to assert their legal rights and be more politically active and she was also outspoken about election rigging, which was most likely why she was murdered.
In June 2013, five women administering polio vaccines were gunned down in Karachi and Peshawar, Pakistan. Over the past decade, there has been a huge global push to eliminate polio, which has been a top priority of the Rotary Club. However, the Taliban attacks on polio workers, which began in 2012 and are part of their campaign to stop polio vaccines for good, have now exposed about 400,000 children in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan to polio.
Shamim Akhter, 50, a social worker from Hyderabad, Pakistan, who worked for the NGO Tando Jam, was also brutally murdered in June. Local police have refused to investigate and have threatened to kill her sister, Tasleem, if the family does not retract the investigation request.
These women represent just a fraction of the hundreds, if not thousands, of women who have been murdered around the world for simply trying to teach girls, alleviate suffering, empower the oppressed, and make the world a better place.
May we not forget their stories, yet remember that all of them would not want us to mourn or pause too long in memory, as there is still much work to do.
QUOTE: Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. – Robert Kennedy
- Greg Mortenson
BOZEMAN, Mont. — Start with breakfast. That’s what I did this week to help explain some of the similarities and differences between growing up here and growing up in the remote mountain villages where Central Asia Institute (CAI) works.
So what do campers at the YMCA Summer Adventure Camp eat for breakfast? Lots of cold cereal, they told me. One of them, however, prefers “chocolate toast” (toasted bread with Nutella spread). Another likes pizza.
But in Chapursan Valley, in the mountains of northern Pakistan where CAI has about two-dozen projects, a typical breakfast is bread and milk tea, I told them. And often, it’s the same for lunch and dinner.
“What if you don’t like bread and milk tea?” one camper asked, her eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“You eat it anyway because that’s all there is,” I said.
The YMCA camp emphasizes “fun and educational learning” for kindergarteners to sixth-graders. Each week counselors and campers focus on a theme and CAI was asked to participate in this week’s “Globetrotters” program.
The 45 students tried on hats from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. A couple of them walked slowly across the SOB Barn loft’s dusty wooden floor wearing a burka. And they asked dozens of questions about what daily life for the children we work with half a world away.
I told them about the class of high-school students I met this summer in Afghanistan who had never, ever ridden in a car or seen a computer; about the students in CAI-supported schools who wind up teaching their parents how to read; and about the comparatively small mud-brick houses, heated with smoky wood or dung fires, where extended families live and eat and sleep together.
“But kids are kids,” I said. “You and the children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan are actually more alike than you are different. You all have families who love you and want the best for you and your future. And all around the world, a brighter future begins with education.”
A large part of CAI’s mission is to promote peace through education — in the communities where we work overseas, and just down the street.
QUOTE: Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. – Aristotle
- Karin Ronnow with photos by CAI Database Manager, Laura Brin
Central Asia Institute’s Board of Directors and staff wish all our Muslim friends blessings of peace on Eid al-Fitr, at the conclusion of Ramadan.
Eid al-Fitr, which means “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” is one of the most joyous days in the Islamic calendar, marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. It is in some ways similar in spirit to Christmas, Hannukah, Dewali, Kwanza and other faiths’ joyous occasions.
Throughout the month preceding Eid, the estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world focus on fasting (no food or water) during daylight hours, prayer, and charity. These are all demonstrations of self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah, or God.
“Ramadan marks the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad and is a time of increased spiritual reflection and devotion,” according to the Pew Research Center.
Ramadan holds special significance for Muslims, said Farid Senzai, a CAI board member.
“Its many benefits include that it allows Muslims to obey one of the major pillars of Islam and commandments from God,” Senzai said. “It also includes personal and spiritual purification as well as controlling one’s desires. It encourages empathy toward the poor and needy who do not have enough to eat or drink. And it creates a social dimension that brings Muslims from all walks of life together.”
Ramadan takes place during the ninth month on the Muslim lunar calendar, so Eid al-Fitr marks the start of the 10th month, Shawwal. As with Ramadan’s starting date, the ending date varies around the world depending on the sighting of the new, or crescent, moon.
“Some celebrate in conjunction with the local moon sighting,” CAI co-founder Greg Mortenson explained. “Others rely on the moon sighting in Saudi Arabia.”
Moon sightings are serious business when it comes to Ramadan. In Saudi Arabia, the Supreme Court collects evidence of crescent moon sightings, which this year were reported on Wednesday, Aug. 7, so Eid al-Fitr will be observed today, Aug. 8, in the kingdom.
In Pakistan, the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an elite body charged with moon sighting, is expected to sight the crescent moon tonight, with Eid celebrations on Friday.
At the end of a month of reflection and self-sacrifice, Eid is a time of thanksgiving. In the words of some CAI overseas managers who sent their best wishes by phone and e-mail today:
From the Hindu Kush Mountains in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan: Wakhan manager, CAI community manager Pariwash (Pari) Gouhari: “Eid Mubarak to all our CAI supporters from all over the world who given us the best Idi [gifts given during Eid-al-Fitr] of all: schools and girls’ education through all the Wakhan.”
From the plains of Punjab Province in Pakistan, Suleman Minhas, CAI Punjab program manager: “Eid Mubarak to all people, and we pray for peace for all the world. We especially thank Dr. Greg and CAI team for 20 years of service to remote villagers, and the donors who give us the gift of education. Ramadan is a time we especially remember and pray for the poor people, widows, and orphans, and we open our hearts and make alms [charity] for the ones who suffer.”
From the Karakoram Mountains in Baltistan, northern Pakistan, CAI program manager Mohammad Nazir: “On this celebration of Eid, I send greetings from the CAI Baltistan team, and we give thanks to Allah for giving us life, health, family, and education. It is a happy time to celebrate and share gifts, but most of all we are grateful for education for the children, which gives us hope and peace for the future.”
From Kabul, the Afghan capital in the Hindu Kush Mountains, CAI-Afghanistan Program Manager Wakil Karimi: “On behalf of all CAI students and teachers here, my family and entire CAI Afghanistan team send greetings and best wishes to all of you who support CAI and education. The gift of education to the poor is the most precious and holy gift anyone can give and it gives us a future of hope and peace. Peace is very important to everybody, but especially to parents in Afghanistan who everyday worry about whether their children will return home from school or be injured or killed in suicide bomb, roadside bomb, shooting or poisoning. Thank you, Tashakur, for your belief in a better future for Afghanistan.”
And last but not least, from the Rocky Mountains of the United States, Greg Mortenson: “Eid Mubarak to all our Muslim friends, brothers and sisters, and thanks to the dear children, parents, teachers, and elders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan for your patience, and teaching me about life’s greatest lessons. My life’s greatest honor is to serve you, support girls’ education, and be welcomed into your families with eternal hospitality and kindness.”
- Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director
NOTE: The young women’s names have been changed for their protection.
Every time I visit the Central Asia Institute-supported scholarship students attending university in Kabul, I am impressed by their determination, courage and persistence. They face a combination of obstacles most Westerners can barely fathom: life in a war-torn country, illiterate parents, an oppressive culture, entrenched poverty, and few female role models.
They are pioneers in their families and their communities. Yet they are modest about their accomplishments. They put their lives on the line every time they agree to share their stories. And their goals almost always revolve around making Afghanistan a better country.
“My decision for my future is to be a good teacher, serve my country, and [convey] those things that I learned to others,” 21-year-old Fahima, a CAI-supported student who attends a teacher’s college in Kapisa Province, said recently. “My parents are not educated people. And they are very interested that I study more and more to become a very famous person and do service to my country.”
The country needs educated young adults. Nearly 75 percent of the Afghan population is illiterate; 88 percent of women are unable to read and write, according to a UN Report.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Despite the progress of the past few years, Afghanistan is extremely poor, landlocked, and highly dependent on foreign aid,” according to Index Mundi. “Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs. …. Afghanistan’s living standards are among the lowest in the world.”
CAI believes education is fundamental to a better future for Afghanistan – and Afghans agree. “Demand among Afghans for better schooling … is at its highest point in decades,” New York Times reported July 20.
Enormous barriers still exist. An estimated 4.2 million children, mostly girls, still don’t attend school. Of those girls who do enroll, many drop out before reaching high school due to forced marriage, a shortage of female teachers, conservative beliefs that girls should not study or work outside the home, or security concerns amid Taliban threats. If they do manage to finish high school, girls who want to attend university still must take and pass the university entrance exam, the kankor, get permission from their parents to attend university, and find a way to finance it.
It’s easy to see why only one-fourth of the students in Afghanistan’s universities are female.
On the other hand, the good news is women make up 25 percent of university students, and that their numbers have been growing steadily since the Taliban government was ousted in 2001, according to the UN report on Afghanistan’s compliance with the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
In any given academic year, CAI supports 18 to 20 young Afghan women pursuing college and university degrees. Those girls know they are among the lucky ones. Education has changed them – for the better.
“My childhood has been different because of my education,” said Aliah, 20, also a student at the Kapisa college. “I enjoy every second of my life. I guess that I am a complete person.”
* * * *
Here are some thoughts from these and other CAI scholars’ about the importance of education and their dreams for the future:
Why is education important?
Hila, 20, Kabul Medical University: “Education is important because it is the light in our lives that helps us find our way to a good life, security, and a good economic situation for our families.”
Karimah, 24, Kapisa: “With knowledge we can know the difference between good and bad, do our duties, and arrange our lives in successful ways”
Latifa, 19, Kapisa: “Education is important because it makes us better citizens and we can be better people.”
Aliah: “Learning makes our future bright. Also, by knowledge we can know ourselves and our God. Knowledge is like a big ocean. And today the cause of the world is the promotion of education.”
Fahima: “Education is important because it is the message of Islamic religion and the basis of civil society.”
Laila, 26, Kabul: “It is important because it is our duty to learn knowledge, serve our country and the children and eliminate the ignorance from our country.”
Niazmina, 22, Kapisa: “Knowledge is the bridge between the lightness and the darkness in our lives.”
Dreams for future
Karimah: “I want to be a good teacher to serve my country and have knowledgeable people to bring peace in our nice country.”
Hila: “I hope to be a wonderful doctor for my people.”
Latifa: “My decision for my future life is to be a good teacher and serve the kind children of my country.”
Sherina, 21: “The most important thing is to provide access to education so that [Afghans] can learn something and do it in our practical life. Then, lots of changes will come, we can build our society and improve our own lives.
Niazmina: “I want to be able to make money so that I can help myself, my parents and family and my country.”
How is your life different because you have an education?
Sherina: “When I learn knowledge, at first I know myself, and then I know my God. I also know about my responsibility to respect my nice parents. And from the time that I started education my life became a bonanza. I become successful in all that I do. I am thankful to my kind Allah that give me the chance to study and become a literate person. … By learning knowledge we can build our society.”
Fahima: “Knowledge brings the positive points in my life and I am happy that I have education.”
Latifa: “Lots of changes have happened in my life because of education. It means we can know about events that happened [history] and what is going on now in the world. And education teaches us to respect our parents and elders.”
Niazmina: “A lot changed when knowledge came into my life. They were positive changes. I better understand my relations with my family and other people. And I learned that, without knowledge, life is like a dark ocean and we can’t find or get to our target. With education we have a secure society, money and peace – [all of which help us] get to our target.”
Hila: “My education makes me a more successful person.”
Laila: “When a person gets education the positive changes come into their lives. From the time that I started learning, lots of changes came into my life. I can make decisions with my whole family. Also, with learning comes opportunities to make money and without money we can’t do anything.”
QUOTE: A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special. – Nelson Mandela
- Karin Ronnow, with help from Wakil Karimi in Kabul
When Greg and CAI Executive Director David Starnes arrived in Skardu in mid-June this year, CAI’s local program director, Mohammad Nazir, had a surprise waiting: The traditional welcoming tea had ballooned into a party with more than a dozen old friends.
“Today is the 20th anniversary of ‘Dr. Greg’s’ mission” to promote education in the mountain villages of Pakistan, Nazir said. “He came in 1993 to climb K2. So this is the Silver Jubilee.”
“Twenty years of service,” he added, then waved his arm to indicate the cake and a table laden with sweets and fresh fruit, tea and cold drinks. “Congratulations, sir!”
Greg, who is still fondly referred to as “Dr. Greg” in this region, introduced David to the people who had gathered to welcome them and then took a few moments to greet his friends individually.
Before cutting the cake, he asked Apo Abdul Razak, his long-time friend and colleague, to say a dua (prayer).
As everyone sat down, Greg and his friends recalled when he came to Baltistan in 1993 to climb K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. Over the next few years, he returned several times as he worked to fulfill his dream to build a school. By 1996, he and the villagers of Korphe, with financial help from the American Himalayan Foundation, had finished the first school ever built in that community. That year he also formed the nonprofit Central Asia Institute (CAI) with help from CAI cofounder Jean Hoerni.
When asked what has changed in the intervening years, Nazir said, “Every year is an adventure, with new things. These days much has changed with the people understanding the importance of education, especially for their sisters and daughters. Now they understand everything, and Baltistan is stronger because of CAI and Greg’s work.”
Greg, who grew up on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, where his late father helped establish Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, has always said that real change takes one or two generations, and referred to an old Swahili proverb: “The gestation of an elephant takes longer than that of a goat,” which means good things take a while to manifest.
“It is rewarding and inspiring to see that some of the first girls to go in our schools are now mothers, college graduates, and, even more, that they are making a profound change in the community,” Greg said.
At one point during the afternoon party, Nazir took a moment to acknowledge the past.
“The only thing missing is our old friends and teachers, but they are with us in spirit,” he said, referring to former colleagues who have died, including Haji Ali, the former village leader in Korphe, and Sarfraz Khan, CAI’s most-remote-areas project manager, who died of cancer last November.
“For us, Greg is still the same,” Nazir said, smiling. “We feel like we did in the beginning – we have hope and we are very thankful he came to Baltistan.”
QUOTE: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
- Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director
GILGIT, Pakistan – Central Asia Institute’s Gilgit-based team, photographer Erik Petersen, and I have just returned from an amazing journey to visit some of CAI’s projects in the Broghil region of extreme northern Pakistan, adjacent to the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan. These projects are some of CAI’s most remote undertakings in Pakistan, difficult to access, and beyond range of roads, phones, or electricity.
The Broghil region is one of the most underserved areas in Pakistan, with few schools or educational opportunities. The people eke out a living in a barren environment at high altitude (often over 10,000 ft), and are blocked off from civilization for about 7-8 months annually due to harsh winters. In addition to their livestock of sheep, goats, and yaks, they are agro-pasturalists, who live on marginal subsistence crops of potatoes, buckwheat, and barley.
Originally, people migrated here to escape wars, natural disasters, slavery, high taxation, and persecution. To escape the long winters, and due to lack of health care, opium addiction has been historically rampant here, although recent health care initiatives have had an impact.
We traveled by jeep, foot, and horseback through the Hindu Kush Mountains to Broghil, where CAI has two schools and supports a third. Our ultimate destination was Chilmarabad High School, about 3 miles from the Afghanistan border. Along the way, we received remarkable hospitality, even though the villagers had little to spare, and they were grateful that an NGO has taken an interest in their plight and future.
Erik and I were the first foreigners in five years to travel the route, an ancient trade route that was closed by the Pakistan government, but reopened this spring at CAI’s request with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence services, military, and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti.
Besides the sheer spectacle of traveling on horseback under blue skies into such a pristine area, amidst the chatter of marmots, the highlight of the trip was to meet the eager students and dedicated teachers, who see education as their greatest hope and tool to improve their lives for the future.
Here are some of Erik’s photos from our journey:
- Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director
ISHKOMAN VALLEY, Ghizer District, Northern Pakistan — When Ayla Bibi was 16 years old, her widowed mother decided it was time for her youngest daughter to quit school and get married.
Child marriage (before age 18) is still common in the remote mountain villages west of Gilgit. In Pakistan as a whole, 31 percent of girls wind up as child brides, one of the highest percentages in the world, according to UNICEF. Poverty, tradition, and desperation all play into parents’ decisions. Yet research indicates that for each year a girl remains in school beyond fifth grade, her marriage age is delayed by a year.
In Alya Bibi’s case, her uneducated mother felt she had no other choice. The girl’s father had died when she was 5 years old. The family is impoverished and landless, having sold everything they owned over the years “to make money for food,” she said.
“My mother struggled to look after us without any help from our relatives or the government,” Alya Bibi said. “My (older) sister was married and my brother had no job and no education. My mother sent me to school in a nearby village, but it was hard for her to bear our expenses.”
Then in 2009, Central Asia Institute (CAI) began work on a primary school in her village. Although Alya Bibi would be too old to attend by the time the school was built, “We were all very happy that now we would have a school in our village and could study nearby our home.”
But Alya Bibi’s happiness didn’t last long. “Because they could not bear the expenses of my schooling, [that year] my brother and mom decided my engagement to a man from a nearby village. I was shocked because I could not understand what is marriage. My friends started teasing me. I started crying. But my mom and brother pushed me to be ready and said I would have to marry anyway.
“I just cried and prayed to God to save my life,” she said.
Then one day, the CAI project manager working in her village came to Alya Bibi’s house for tea. He asked about her education.
“My mom told him, ‘She is in class six and we are going to marry her this year.’ She told him her story … how my father died without treatment,” Alya Bibi recalled. “He asked my mom and brother, ‘If I give her scholarship, can the family wait until she can complete her grade 10? She is very young to marry.’
“My mom and brother were puzzled because they had decided to marry me. And it was impossible for them to stop that [deal] with that family and wait for three years. They told him, ‘That means we cancel this marriage and for that we may be fined by the village elders, for which we are not ready because we have no money to pay.’”
The manager urged them to try anyway. Negotiations ensued between Alya Bibi and her fiancé’s family, money was exchanged, and the arranged marriage was cancelled.
“My prayers were accepted by the Almighty Allah and next time when the CAI manager come to our village … he asked me, ‘Are you ready to go to Gilgit and continue your education there and work hard?’ I was happy and said, ‘Yes. I am ready.’
Alya Bibi, 20, is now a student in class 10, thanks to a CAI-supported scholarship. She dreams of becoming a teacher.
“I am happy and feel lucky that I met this manager, otherwise instead of getting my education I would have two or three babies and no life manners. I thank CAI for helping me and saving my life when my family could not help. I am just praying for Central Asia Institute. They help thousands of girls like me and save their lives.”
DREAMS FOR FUTURE
Alya Bibi is one of more than 100 girls in rural Pakistan determined to continue their education and aided by CAI scholarships. These courageous girls are often the first females in their families to get an education.
Here are excerpts from recent interviews with a few of them, during which they discussed why education is important to them and their dreams for the future.
“The most important thing to learn is to help poor people support their children’s educations, then they can help decide good things for future generations.”
Shabnam (19, first-year college student, Gupis Valley, Ghizer): “I am a medical student so I want to be a doctor in future. Education is very important for me to make my future bright. … My parents are uneducated and they believe we can survive without education. But I think that without education we are nothing and just blank. My life will be different from them because my thinking level is higher than theirs.
“After becoming a doctor, I want to help the people of my area. I will feel proud that I also can support my family like other male members of my family and make my performance in the society.”
Rabia (20, third-year college student, Ishkoman Valley, Ghizer): “ I faced lots of problems in my previous life due to lack of education and poverty of my parents. My parents are uneducated and my father is jobless. He is not feeling well; his health is suffering for last six years. Because of education, my life will be completely different from theirs.
“Education is important to develop my skills. I want to change my life, the environment of my home, and my village. When I complete my education I will try to get a job to support my family. … The subject I have chosen is sociology, so I want to be a social worker to give services to my villagers. I am getting scholarship from CAI since last three years so I want to give services to this institute after completing my education.
Naseem Perveen (21, third-year student, Gojal, Hunza): “After disaster of Attobad Lake [which flooded villages in 2010], my parents and I were too worried about our land because the only source of income was the land and it was completely destroyed. My parents are uneducated and they are both deaf and dumb. I am the eldest child of my parents and it was my responsibility to give moral support to my parents. One of my relatives told me about this scholarship and I contacted CAI with the help of that relative.
“Education is important for me to change my life, to change my personality, to change my thinking pattern, and to support my family. Obviously my life will be different from my parents because I got a good environment for studying and learning.
“My dream for the future is to get good education. Afterwards I want to do something extraordinary to give education to remote areas where there are people facing problems because of lack of education.”
Shamsi (17, second-year college student, Ishkoman Valley, Ghizer): “Education is important for me because I want to be a doctor and help the people of my area. Also, in every society, those people who have good education and knowledge get respect.
“Many people think that education is not so important. [But] I think that without education we can get nothing in this world. Money, respect and values are all just because of education. The Holy Koran says, ‘Are they equal who know and who don’t know?
“My father is educated; he was a teacher and he is retired now. My mother is uneducated. My life will be different than my parents’ because I got better environment and education than them. My thinking level is higher than theirs and my point of view about every aspect of life, including education, is different.”
Mehak (17, first-year college student, Chapursan Valley, Hunza): “We need good education to be a good citizen, differentiate right from wrong and contribute to society. Because of education, I think I have good manners and my way of talking, meeting others and thinking is better than [that of] uneducated people. And I have the confidence to face the challenges of life.
“Indeed my life will be different than my parents’. They are uneducated. But my dream for the future is to be a doctor. After completing my education I want to improve the environment of my home and village and serve my family, community and the society. I want to be a role model for the people of my village.”
Shimshad (18, third-year commerce & economics college student, Yasin Valley, Ghizer): “My father is uneducated and he is blind, and my mother died when I was 3 years old. My life will be completely different from theirs because of education. Already education has changed my behavior, my thoughts, my way of making decisions, and my way of taking action.
“When I complete my education, I want to do something for my family to support them. I want to become a banker or work with accounts and give social services to the people of my area.”
QUOTE: The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. – Plutarch
– Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director, with help from Dilshad Begum and Saidullah Baig in Gilgit, Pakistan
KAPISA Province, Afghanistan — Farida was 36 years old when she decided to return to school to earn a teaching degree. She was relieved to learn that tuition at the Teacher Training College in Kapisa Province, where she lives, is free.
But she quickly figured out that she was still going to need some financial help.
“Without assistance, I don’t have money to get [transport] to the school, to pay taxi or for bus, to buy books and supplies,” Farida told me in February.
Hers is a common refrain in conversations about girls pursuing higher education in this impoverished, war-torn country: “All girls in Afghanistan they have talent, but they don’t have the opportunity to tap that,” she said.
That’s where Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) new scholarship program comes in. With the help of the Teacher Training College (TTC) administrators, Wakil Karimi, CAI’s central Afghanistan program manager, selected 30 of the teaching college’s best students and offered them a scholarship in the form of a monthly stipend.
“If we do this, we can help girls and women to help the society,” Wakil said. “We want to assist these students in their education so they can know their rights and their roles and then they can help other people, especially girls.”
Kapisa province, sometimes called the “Gateway to Kabul,” is northeast of the capital city. Most of its estimated 400,000 residents – Tajiks, Pashtuns, Pashai, with some Hazara and Nuristanis — live in rural areas and make their living via agriculture. The terrain ranges from flat to mountainous. Kapisa is the smallest province in the country, but is densely populated. Only 6 percent of households have access to electricity.
But as bucolic as that may sound, Kapisa is considered “a transient area for insurgents, transport of weapons and criminal activity,” according to a story posted on the US Central Command website in 2012. Last year, NATO international forces transferred security of area to Afghan authorities. But things have not gone particularly well.
“Right now two districts in Kapisa are under control of the Taliban; there are no female students or teachers there,” said TTC Deputy Principal Abdul Maurif.
In Kapisa as a whole, only about 24 percent of the 85,000 primary and secondary school students are girls, and only about 11 percent of the 2,300 teachers are women, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education.
The young women in CAI’s scholarship program hope to play a role in correcting that imbalance.
Marasa, 19, said she would like to teach high school history and geography.
“I want to be a teacher because it is a good job, and because girls need female teachers,” especially those from families that do not allow their daughters to show their faces to anyone “other than close relatives” after reaching puberty, she said. “I also want to be a teacher because that way I can help the next generation to develop better. Educated people have more respect for others.”
Each scholarship student receives 3000 afghanis (about $60) per month, Wakil said.
“It is not a lot of money, but if you manage it well, it is enough,” he told the students in February.
“Use the money in the proper way so it can give you benefit. Also, our help is not for a short period. We will help you graduate. But you must study hard because if your marks fall, if you lose position, we will stop the scholarship.”
For many students, including Marasa, the cost of getting to and from school has been a big obstacle to their pursuit of higher education.
“I have to come here by car, half an hour each way, and that costs 1,000 afghanis each month,” Marasa said.
Anita, 21, takes a bus from her village near the Salang Pass to the school – a 60 to 90-minute trip one way. And she does that six days a week. “It costs 2,000 afghanis per month on transportation,” so the scholarship makes all the difference, she said. “I will use the other 1,000 afghanis for stationary, books, [and] pens.”
These young women represent a big step in Afghanistan’s efforts to recruit, train, and employ more female teachers. Those efforts include reviving teacher-training colleges like the one in Kapisa.
“The conflict in Afghanistan has not only destroyed the physical infrastructure of the education system, but also the human resources that are so critical to establishing a quality education system,” according to Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) materials.
Marouf, TTC’s deputy principal, concurred. “Unfortunately because of the situation in Afghanistan, we have a shortage of teachers. This is a result of the fighting.
“But education is the backbone of a country. If a person has education and knowledge, first he knows himself, then he knows society, then he has respect and plays a positive role and the country becomes stronger.”
The teacher-training certification takes two years and is roughly the equivalent of class 13-14. The Kapisa TTC has 2,165 male and 620 female students, according to spokesman Farid Abdul Saboor.
At the February meeting, Wakil gave a short speech explaining CAI — “in America children collect the pennies for you” – and wrapped it up with a pep talk.
“You can use your education to help other girls to study and stand beside the boys of Afghanistan.”
Farida took it to heart.
“We can use this degree to encourage and help other people in their school and education,” Farida said. “First we change the family, then the village, then the country, then the world.”
QUOTE: Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Socrates
Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director
GICH, Pakistan – On a snowy morning in January, a fire was roaring in the woodstove in the women’s center workshop. About 30 women sat in groups around the room, stitching, sewing, cutting, knitting – all the while passing the time with conversation.
In one corner, women pinned pieces of a simple paper pattern onto a swath of material, with plans to cut out pieces for children’s school uniforms and then sew them together on hand-powered sewing machines.
In another corner, the focus was on intricate embroidery for pillowcases, table linens, and decorative wall hangings.
Elsewhere, women worked on pieces of the blankets they quilt together and then stuff with wool from the local sheep.
“For the quilts and mats, we have five women working per group and it takes a group one day to make one quilt,” said Bibi Jahan, secretary of the Gich Women’s Vocational Center.
A single-size quilt sells for about 1,500 rupees; a double goes for about 2,000 rupees (about $20), she said. Subtract the cost of materials and each person gets about 200 rupees. It’s not much, but it is something. And it adds up.
“People here are poor and if they make some money then they can help give education to their children,” Bibi Jahan said. “Most families are farming – fruit, wheat, corn, walnuts.
“Men usually spend money on house expenses and help pay for kids. But there is not enough. When the women can also help support their families, they combination lifts everyone up together,” she said, raising her hands, palm-side up, in front of her. “Men see this and so support women doing this work also.”
Such community empowerment is at the heart of Central Asia Institute’s work, said Saidullah Baig, CAI’s community program manager in this region of northern Pakistan. CAI supports more than 20 women’s vocational centers in this region. This particular one was built in 2011.
“They’ve had good system here from the beginning,” Saidullah said. “They were using a rented house. When they (were) pushed out, they stopped working for a year and asked CAI for help. The women bought the land [with money they’d earned and set aside] and CAI helped with the building. Then, when this building was ready, they reorganized.”
In 2011, the women’s center had about 71 members, Bibi Jahan said. “Now about 150 women use the center, operating in shifts, some in morning time, others in afternoon time.
“Mostly we sell to local people,” she said. “They are demanding these things. And we are selling in the markets, too. CAI gave us training and materials and 10 sewing machines, then handed it over to us to run.”
The Gich project was one of two women’s centers Saidullah wanted me to see that day. I’d visited both sites two years earlier, when the buildings were under construction. This time he wanted to me to see how popular – and productive – they had become.
CAI has helped to empower women with vocational centers for approximately 15 years, and the centers continue to grow in popularity. In recent years, CAI has developed a more multifaceted approach, and in some areas our centers also include instruction in literacy, hygiene, sanitation, cell-phone use, and how to count and track money. The ultimate goal is to give rural women the tools to strengthen their families and their communities.
So early on a cold, rainy morning, Saidullah, Dilshad Begum, Saidullah’s wife and coworker, Fozia Naseer, CAI’s Azad Kashmir project manager, and I piled into Saidullah’s old Land Cruiser and headed west. We drove into the Ghizer district, an area near the junction of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountains, famous for fruit orchards and trout fishing in the crystal-clear rivers. (The district’s name is a variation of the Khowar-language word “Gherz,” which means “refugees,” and refers to people who fled abusive rulers in Chitral more than a century ago.)
The Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan abuts Afghanistan to the north and the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province to the south and west. According to www.myghizer.com, it is a multi-ethnic region, where people speak four major languages — Shina, Khowar, Burushaski, and Wakhi – in addition to Urdu and English. Most people survive as subsistence farmers, and it’s not uncommon to see men plowing the soil behind a team of oxen, or women weeding the fields and vegetable gardens. Most families also have a few goats, yaks or cows, and the milk is used to make yogurt and butter.
That morning we saw many small groups of men waiting on the side of the road for a car or bus to take them to the city for work or business.
“This area is like Hunza,” Saidullah said. “Women do work in the field and house and men do laboring or service jobs.”
We saw children playing cricket or working outside in the sleety rain (schools in these mountain regions typically take an extended winter, rather than a summer, break). I saw a lot of new construction, which Saidullah said were new houses being built for people moving north from the nearby Kohistan region.
“Kohistan people, who are Sunni, are moving here,” he said, adding that the region has long been populated by people of Shia faith. Sunni families who already live in the area “give some of their land to Kohistan families for free to increase the Sunni population. They are building new villages.”
And the changing demographics have caused some problems, Saidullah said.
“In a Shia area, someone killed a Sunni policeman and the seven other police were Shia and they didn’t arrest the killer. This caused more fighting.”
That morning we also saw a group of about 10 Sunni missionaries walking along the road.
“They are the Wahhabi missionaries, the preachers,” Saidullah said. “They travel all the time, carrying food and clothes on their backs.”
At a roadside stand we bought a few pears and applies and several kilos of kilowh, a local delicacy made by boiling grape juice, adding walnuts and then, once the mixture thickens, attaching it to a string to dry.
“Our kids love this,” Saidullah said. “It is a special treat.”
By the time we got to the first women’s center in Gich, which is at a higher elevation than Gilgit, it was snowing.
After a tour of the center and a cup of tea, the women wanted to show me the large cotton shredder in a room off the back of the building. The mats the women make are stuffed with cotton from old clothes, which are run through the shredder. The day we were there, the shredder was not working.
“We need a new one,” the center’s president, Parita Dawous, told me. “The motor is working, but the blades are ruined. We bought this one second hand. It would cost us 60,000 rupees to get a new one without a new motor.”
About 20 minutes away, at the CAI-supported women’s center in Singul, the shredder is working and a group of about six older women are busy stitching colorful mats together. The mats are popular, they said, since everybody uses them for sitting on the floor.
This center has about 180 members; about 60 are active participants, said Bibi Maraj, a retired teacher and the group’s chairwoman.
Two young women from the Hunza region, hired by CAI to train the women, are moving around the room, teaching and coaching as the women sewed, stitched, and embroidered.
“Some of the embroidery patterns are copied from Hunza, others are designed by the women themselves,” Bibi Maraj said.
She then took me into the small shop at the front of the building to show off the variety of items the women make: knitted sweaters and vests, children’s clothing, small velveteen pouches for women and embroidered wallets for men, school uniforms, and embroidered wall hangings.
Each item has a blue-and-white CAI logo tag attached.
“The women want people to know that we are making these things and that we are proud to be part of Central Asia Institute,” Bibi Maraj said.
QUOTE: I do not wish [women] to have power over men, but over themselves. – Author Mary Wollstonecraft
Story & photos by Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director
Note from CAI: As we prepared to post this blog item today, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line, killing at least two people. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured in this senseless act of violence, and the families and friends of those who died.
TOWNSEND, Mont. – When I asked who in Virginia Poole’s sixth-grade class wanted to try on the head-to-toe blue burqa I’d brought from Afghanistan, a few students hesitantly raised their hands.
The first volunteer looked skeptical, unsure about what to expect as I slipped the burqa over her head.
“Whoa,” she said, adjusting the tiny thread-mesh screen in front of her eyes. She slowly turned her head to look at her classmates. “I can’t see very well,” she said. “And it’s hot.”
By the time I helped her take off the burqa, nearly all the students – including the boys – wanted to try it on.
Most people in the United States have never actually seen, let alone worn, a real burqa. But the preteen girls in Poole’s class are at the age when, if they lived in certain areas of or belonged to a conservative family in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they’d be required to wear a burqa in public, Central Asia Institute (CAI) co-founder Greg Mortenson told the 48 sixth-graders.
The burqa – which a CAI program manager gave me in 2009 before our first trip to Afghanistan’s Urozgan Province, the home of Taliban leader Mullah Omar – was part our presentation on CAI and the remote mountain communities half a world away where CAI promotes education, especially for girls.
In the United States, sixth grade is when students learn about how culture, governance, geography, invention, trade, revolution, and religion braid together to influence history, from ancient civilizations to our modern-day world. They learn about different literary genres. And they begin to understand concepts like human rights and violent oppression.
The Townsend sixth-graders had read Greg’s book, “Three Cups of Tea,” and were enthusiastically curious about him, the schools, and the daily lives of their peers overseas.
“We study world history in social studies and the students are just getting to that place where they understand the world outside themselves,” Poole said after our Friday, April 12 presentation. “Having read the book – and we were pretty engaged in the book – the students were surprised and very impressed to have Greg come to talk with them.”
She chose “Three Cups of Tea” as the nonfiction title of the year in part because the author is from Bozeman. “I thought it would help the students relate to the story,” she said.
The differences between these rural American schoolchildren and their peers in Pakistan and Afghanistan are easy to tally. Just for starters, American students attend schools with central heating, electricity, running water, computers, and well-educated teachers – things that are considered luxuries in most remote villages of Central Asia. Then there are the more dramatic differences, such as students at CAI schools walking one to three hours to get to school every morning, or girls getting married at age 12, or children being denied an education, forced to work, or sold into slavery. And don’t forget the blue burqas.
But there are lots of similarities, too, and the students found they could relate to the story on many levels. As I told the kids, “We’re really all much more alike than we are different.”
Townsend is a small town of nearly 2,000 people on the Missouri River, 35 miles north of the river’s headwaters in south-central Montana. Lewis and Clark passed through Townsend in 1805, but homesteaders didn’t arrive until the late 1860s. More than 150 years later, Townsend is still the only incorporated town in Broadwater County, a largely rural area of wide valleys surrounded by the Big Belt and Elkhorn mountains. Ranching and tourism – driven by the town’s proximity to Canyon Ferry Lake – drive the local economy.
“Rural Montana and its mountain and prairie communities are similar to the regions and villages we serve,” Greg told the students. “And despite what we read in the media about crime, terrorism and violence, most people in America, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are kind, hard-working people who want peace.”
In describing their typical days, some of the Townsend students who live on farms and ranches described a daily routine not unlike those of kids in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan: get up early, do chores (milk goats, feed the livestock, collect the eggs) and eat breakfast before school; followed by more chores and homework until bedtime.
The Townsend students’ dreams for the future also resemble those of their peers overseas – but with a few notable exceptions. I told the kids that students I’ve interviewed in CAI schools typically want to be teachers, doctors or nurses, or join the military – ambitions often limited by their lack of exposure to options.
Those ambitions were echoed by some of the Townsend kids, but they also mentioned dreams of becoming pilots, veterinarians, lawyers, and even a tattoo artist, video game tester and a gun collector.
Greg asked the students how many of them had ever volunteered, contributed to charity, or been involved in community service. All the students raised their hands, and one by one told him about volunteering at the food bank; helping younger kids, the handicapped, and the elderly with reading and tasks; mediation and anti-bullying awareness; environmental issues; and much more.
“When I was in college three decades ago, we spent one day a year picking up beer cans and litter and we thought we were saving the planet,” Greg told the students. “But look at all you are doing today. You are my heroes for making a difference, and helping make your community, our country and the world a better place.”
What was supposed to be a one-hour visit turned into more than three hours of nonstop discussion and shared of ideas and dreams – the equivalent of our first cup of tea.
“This has been great, really great,” Poole said as we packed up to leave. “You can come back anytime.”
QUOTE: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. – Anne Frank
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Madonna announced last week she plans to sell a 1921 cubist painting, “Three Women,” by Fernand Léger to help raise money for girls’ education projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The singer said she wanted to “trade something valuable for something invaluable.”
Also last week, Angelina Jolie, Hollywood actor/director and UN goodwill ambassador, opened a girls’ primary school in Afghanistan, funded with sales from her jewelry line, which she created with “the goal of providing for children in need.”
It’s easy to be skeptical or even cynical about entertainers getting involved in causes. But their contributions matter. They help raise awareness of and money for girls’ education – both of which are needed.
They can also be seen as part of a growing “popular movement” to challenge the prejudices that keep girls out of school, a trend noted by UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown.
Central Asia Institute (CAI) has focused on educating girls in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan for 17 years.
Why focus on girls’ education? CAI Co-founder Greg Mortenson sums it up this way: “Once you educate the boys, they often leave the villages and search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass their knowledge onto their own children. If you really want to empower societies, reduce poverty, improve basic hygiene and health care, reduce the population explosion, and fight high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”
More than half of the 100 million children around the world not in school are girls, according to UNICEF. In recent years, the number of girls attending primary schools around the world has grown, but the disparity between the number of girls and boys in secondary school remains high – especially in the world’s poorest countries.
To reiterate and underscore why girls’ education is important, CAI has compiled a list of the Top 10 reasons why girls’ education makes a difference:
TOP 10 REASONS TO SUPPORT GIRLS’ EDUCATION:
1. REDUCE INFANT MORTALITY: Children of educated women are less likely to die before their first birthday. “Primary education alone helps reduce infant mortality significantly, and secondary education helps even more,” according to “What Works In Girls’ Education.”
Infant mortality rate:
= Afghanistan: 121 deaths per 1,000 live births (highest in world)
= Pakistan: 61 per 1,000
= Tajikistan: 37 per 1,000
= USA: 6 per 1,000.
Source: Global Health Facts 2012
2. REDUCE MATERNAL MORTALITY: Educated women (with greater knowledge of health care and fewer pregnancies) are less likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or during the postpartum period. Increased education of girls also leads to more female health care providers to assist with prenatal medical care, labor and delivery, delivery complications and emergencies, and follow-up care.
Maternal mortality rates:
= Afghanistan: 460 per 100,000
= Pakistan: 260 per 100,000
= Tajikistan: 79 per 100,000
= USA: 21
Source: Unicef 2010
3. IMPROVE SOCIOECONOMIC GROWTH: Educated women have a greater chance of escaping poverty, leading healthier and more productive lives, and raising the standard of living for their children, families, and communities.
It also benefits nations as a whole: Increasing the share of women with a secondary education by 1 percent boosts annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percent, according to the World Bank. That’s significant, since per capita income gains in developing countries seldom exceed 3 percent a year.
In subsistence farming communities, educated farmers are also more efficient and their farms more productive, which leads to increased crop yields and declines in malnutrition, according to the UN World Food Program.
Quality of life
The UN Human Poverty Index measures and ranks 186 countries using adult literacy rates, probability of living to age 40, access to clean drinking water, and number of underweight children. The lower the number, the better the quality of life.
= Afghanistan: No. 175
= Pakistan: No. 148
= Tajikistan: No. 125
= USA: No. 3
4. REDUCE CHILD MARRIAGE: Child marriage – in some cases involving girls as young as 6 or 8 – almost always results in the end of a girl’s schooling. The result is illiterate or barely literate young mothers without adequate tools to build healthy, educated families. On average, for every year a girl stays in school past fifth grade, her marriage is delayed a year.
Educated girls typically marry later, when they are better able to bear and care for their children.
As the Afghan author Khaled Hosseini said: “Marriage can wait, education cannot.”
5. REDUCE POPULATION EXPLOSION: Educated women tend to have fewer (and healthier) babies. A 2000 study in Brazil found that literate women had an average of 2.5 children while illiterate women had an average of six children, according to UNESCO.
Taking that a step further, let’s say the literate woman had three children and made sure they were educated. If they in turn had 3 children each, grandma would have nine grandchildren. Carry that one more generation and she’d have 27 great-grandchildren.
Conversely, the illiterate woman would have six children, all of whom would be less likely to attend school. If they each had six children, grandma would have 36 grandchildren, and 216 grandchildren.
In developing countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the explosion of people drawing on finite resources reduces the standard of living for everyone.
= Pakistan: 177 million people, growing about 2 percent a year.
= Afghanistan: 35 million people, growing at nearly 3 percent.
= Tajikistan: 7 million people; growing at 1.4 percent per year.
= USA: 311 million people; growing at less than 1 percent.
SOURCE: World Bank 2011
6. DECREASE MALNUTRITION: Educated women “learn what their children need to stay healthy and how to secure necessary support for their children,” including health care, better nutrition and sanitation, according to the book, “What Works In Girls’ Education,” published by the Council on Foreign Affairs.
Educated females also channel more of their resources to the health of their children than men. Click here for more information.
7. INCREASE INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICAL PROCESS: Educated women are more likely to participate in political discussions, meetings, and decision-making, which in turn promotes a more representative, effective government. As more women are educated and approach parity with men, research shows “governments and other institutions function better and with less corruption,” according to “What Works In Girls’ Education.” Women with leadership skills are also a major factor in sparking economic and social change.
8. REDUCE DOMESTIC & SEXUAL VIOLENCE: Educated girls and women are less likely to be victims of domestic and sexual violence or to tolerate it in their families. Conversely, “In poor areas where women are isolated within their communities, have little education and cannot earn much, girls are often regarded as an economic burden and women and girls sometimes suffer deliberate neglect or outright harm,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
9. INCREASE NUMBERS OF EDUCATED CHILDREN: Educated women more likely to insist on education for their own children, especially their daughters. Their children study as much as two hours more each day than children of illiterate mothers and stay in school longer.
10. REDUCE SUPPORT FOR MILITANCY: As women become more educated, they are less likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly educated men, according to a University of Maryland School of Public Policy survey. The survey of Pakistani women also found that uneducated women are more likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly educated men.
As noted last week on this blog, this is important for many reasons, not least of which is that young men and boys recruited by extremist groups are required to get their mothers’ blessings before joining such an organization, or going on a suicide mission, the researcher noted. So, girls who are educated – especially who complete secondary school – grow up to be mothers who are less likely to give their sons permission to pursue violent solutions.
Six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are female, according to the UN. Giving girls and women tools to fight their way out of poverty begins with education.
CAI works with local communities to create sustainable, community-driven education, especially for girls, in isolated mountain regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. In many cases, these girls are the first in their villages to attend school and will be role models for generations to come. They need your support.
QUOTE: You can drop bombs, send in troops, build roads, put in electricity, or hand out condoms, but unless the girls are educated, a society will not change. – Greg Mortenson
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
BOISE, Idaho – En route to speak to Rotarians about Central Asia Institute this week, I had a chance to catch up on some reading and came across three things that coincidentally but emphatically made the same point: Education is the key to a more peaceful world.
The fact that this point was reiterated three times by three different people made me think that perhaps – as our Western understanding of conflict, extremism and militarism has evolved – we have reached a turning point.
The three items I found were:
• A quote by Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, in Delta Airlines’ magazine (of all places): “Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defense spending there is.” The quote wasn’t part of a story. It was just pulled from Annan’s new book, blown up in a large font, and posted on the page with a thumbnail-size photo of Annan.
• A 2012 op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor by Matt Zeller, a former US Army trainer for Afghan security forces, in which he identified four “steps to success in Afghanistan”:
1. Reform and decentralize Afghanistan’s government.
2. Strengthen local Afghan governance.
3. Transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces ONLY when those forces are ready.
4. Improve Afghan literacy.
Zeller said, in no uncertain terms, that literacy, i.e. education, is “the key” to moving people out of poverty.
It’s hard for most Westerners to fathom, but the reality in Afghanistan is that 75 percent of people are illiterate.
Imagine what that means: People can’t read signs. They can’t count money. Police officers can’t file reports or even write a ticket. Soldiers can’t read training manuals. Mothers with sick children cannot read simple medical instructions or prescriptions. Most people can’t write their own name, or read a map, a newspaper or a ballot.
Imagine trying to rebuild a country after 35 years of war when 75 percent of the people are illiterate.
Yet here is a U.S. soldier who spent time in Afghanistan, helped train Afghan security forces and worked with Afghans, who concluded that of all the things the world could be doing to help, education is right up there with governance and security. In fact, they go hand in hand.
• A University of Maryland School of Public Policy survey about Pakistani women and support for militancy and terrorism. Here, researcher Madiha Afzal’s conclusion – one that has long been supposed, but never proven – that as women become more educated, they are less likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly educated men. She also found that uneducated women are more likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly uneducated men.
She said the correlation between education and support for, or rejection of, militancy and terrorism was “important and robust.”
This is important for many reasons, not least of which is that young men and boys recruited by the Taliban and other extremist groups are required to get their mothers’ blessings before joining such an organization, or going on a suicide mission, the researcher noted.
So, girls who are educated – especially who complete secondary school – grow up to be mothers who are less likely to give their sons permission to pursue violent solutions.
And that’s not to mention the myriad other reasons – proven time and time again – that education, especially for girls, makes a difference. Education matters. It changes people and their communities. I’ve seen it myself.
Back in the early 1990s, Greg Mortenson, CAI’s cofounder and a former mountain climber, saw firsthand the effects of poverty, government neglect, and geographical isolation on people living some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Many of these communities had never had never had a school; illiteracy was the norm.
CAI now has more than 200 schools – especially, but not exclusively, for girls – in some of the most remote, far-flung mountain communities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan that you could imagine. We have also worked with communities to introduce women’s literacy and vocational programs and centers to help adult females who were unable to attend school.
And they are making a difference. Over the course of more than six years of working with CAI, I have probably seen more of those schools than any other CAI-US staff person, including Greg. And I can vouch for their efficacy.
Education works. It makes a difference. It’s that simple.
QUOTE: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
KABUL, Afghanistan – Take an overcrowded school, toss in an assortment of overwhelmed and often unqualified teachers, and then set strict limits on classroom time.
What do you get? A lot of underperforming students.
Unfortunately, that is the case in too many of this capital city’s public high schools.
Add to that traditions that restrict females’ movement outside the home, the disruptive and traumatic impacts of 30-plus years of war, child marriage, and myriad other cultural and economic barriers to girls’ education and you begin to understand what Afghan girls who want to finish school are up against.
“Girls in Afghanistan are far less likely to graduate from high school and pursue higher education than boys,” said Wakil Karimi, Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) Afghan community program manager. “So CAI set up this program of free academic centers called SESP to help students get more learning.”
CAI’s innovative and popular Students Education Support Program (SESP) offers girls free afterschool lessons in core subjects. Approved by the Afghan Ministry of Education, SESP classes have been up and running for the past two years in Kabul and recently expanded into Khost Province.
SESP classes give girls extra help in math, English and Islamiat, as well as basic computer instruction and university-test preparation.
“This is not only to help us with the university exams, but for school subjects, which we need because we have many different teachers here and some are not good,” Farida, 17, an 11th-grader at a higher secondary school in Kabul, said in an interview after her algebra lesson last month. “Plus, our [family] economics are not good, so we can’t go to private centers for tutoring. But we can study here, with a female teacher and it is free to us.”
SESP classes meet six days a week, 90 minutes a day, for six months, Wakil said. The schools choose the neediest girls. CAI pays the SESP teachers’ salaries and supplies textbooks and school supplies. And the education ministry arranges for safe after-hours classroom space.
The program supports girls at a vulnerable juncture in their lives, giving them tools for increased confidence, competence, and self-sufficiency. Its lower student-teacher ratios – classes never exceed 30 students — also increase the likelihood that girls will acquire the academic skills necessary to pursue and complete postsecondary education.
Overcrowded classrooms take a toll on students, especially girls, said Farida, who wants to be a doctor “to help the women.” Her school has 8,200 students who attend school in three shifts. She said she particularly appreciates CAI’s subject “briefs,” study guides that expand on material in the textbooks.
“We don’t have enough time in school to learn all this,” she said. “We are 40 or 50 students in one class. But here [in SESP classes], we are just 23 girls in a class learning algebra. It is better.”
The number of girls in school in Afghanistan has increased dramatically since 2001, from only a few thousand to more than 2 million. But they still make up only about one-third of the children in school, according to UNICEF figures, and are more likely than boys to drop out, often as early as middle school.
As a result, the national literacy rate for adult females remains shockingly low, about 13 percent.
Yet we know that women’s education levels reliably predict a nation’s performance on most indicators for women and children – from child mortality to overall health and nutrition.
One grey February day, a group of 28 girls at another high school in Kabul was working with a teacher on Islamic studies. The classroom’s condition was depressing: leaky ceiling, cement walls and floors, inadequate daylight and no electricity. Outside the melting snow had turned the entire schoolyard into a giant mud puddle.
But the girls were there, learning. And they were exceedingly grateful for the opportunity.
“This program provides us a lot of encouragement,” said Fekaria, 13. “It helps us with our regular studies and prepares us for thinking about university exams.”
In 2011, CAI’s SESP program served 2,051 students and paid 41 teachers in 11 schools. The next year, the program grew to serve 2,906 students, 55 teachers and 14 schools. And three months into 2013, the SESP program already supports 2,665 students and 47 teachers.
These girls are the faces of Afghanistan’s future.
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Until last year, 6-year-old Sakina Batool had spent every day of her young life in Korphe, high in Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains.
Like other kids her age in this remote village, she spent her days working on her family’s subsistence farm, tending animals, and doing household chores, waiting for the day she was old enough to start school.
But unlike the other kids, Sakina was born with a hole in her heart.
“Considering she was living at high altitude with severe hypoxia [low oxygen], it’s surprising she’s lived as long as she has,” said Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute (CAI) co-founder.
Yet happy surprises seem to follow this little girl wherever she goes. A Central Asia Institute (CAI) team’s visit to Korphe last spring led to the diagnosis of her illness. A coincidental encounter with a group of Italian mountaineers led to her lifesaving heart surgery in Italy last month. And the combined CAI-Italian project has put Sakina back on her feet.
The Italian doctor who helped make the surgery happen, Dr. Annalisa Fioretti, said Sakina isn’t the only one who benefited from this multinational project.
“It’s a great honor for me to help Sakina,” she said. “But it was also great to discover that so many people have a heart so big. All I had to do was ask and they had faith.”
SAKINA’S ‘BIG PROBLEM’
Sakina, the daughter of Cho-Cho and Ibrahim, was born sometime in 2007 (most birthdates in rural Baltistan are not recorded). Ibrahim said the family knew Sakina was sick, but never had the money or other resources needed to get a clear diagnosis of the problem, or a remedy.
But he did not give up. And when he saw the CAI team in Korphe last spring, Ibrahim brought Sakina – wrapped in a rough-wool coat and wearing a red felt hat with a brightly colored tomar (woven Balti talisman that protects children) attached – for a visit.
Sakina’s frail body, shallow, panting breaths, rales (rattling noises from moist lungs), and rapidly pounding heart were telltale signs of heart trouble, Greg recalled. When he returned to Skardu, Baltistan’s capital, he brought Sakina along for medical tests.
Those tests revealed the grim news: Sakina had severe hypoxia, heart failure, pulmonary edema, and other complications. She was unlikely to live much longer.
MOUNTAINS AND MEDICINE
A group of Italian climbers happened to be in Skardu at that time, en route to Gasherbrum I, the world’s 11th-highest peak.
In 1996, Italian climber Lorenzo Mazzoleni reached the K2 summit, but died during the descent. His bereaved companion, Dr. Maria Assunta Lenotti, has since worked hard to honor his memory by helping the Balti people, and CAI helped her establish a medical clinic in Askole, near Korphe.
The 2012 Italian expedition, too, took a keen interest in the local people and asked for a tour of CAI projects. Afterwards, Mohammad Nazir, CAI’s Baltistan manager, and Greg introduced the Italians – Annalisa, Louis Rousseau, Jacob Wetche and Rob Springer – to Sakina and Ibrahim. View a 2011 video interview with Annalisa.
When Annalisa heard Sakina’s prognosis, she examined the little girl herself. She said Sakina had pulmonary edema and regurgitation in her heart. “She needs heart surgery or she will die,” Annalisa said.
When Greg told her CAI wasn’t in a position to do much more than it already had, Annalisa volunteered to help.
The next step was a battery of tests to better define the problem. CAI helped Ibrahim and Sakina get to Rawalpindi, which is at a lower elevation, and see doctors at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology. Again the diagnosis was grim: surgery would be too risky.
Annalisa, however, was undeterred. She consulted with Dr. Alessandro Frigiola, chief pediatric cardiac surgeon at Cardio Policlinico near Milan, Italy, and other specialists. They agreed surgery would be “risky and complicated,” but could increase Sakina’s chances of living to adulthood to more than 50 percent. They decided to help, and to cover all costs.
For Sakina and her family, this was nothing short of a miracle.
For the next five months, CAI supported Sakina and her dad in Rawalpindi as she built her strength for surgery. Nazir worked on passports and Italian visas for her, her dad, and himself; he would go along as translator. And the Italians started raising money to pay for flights, food, and medical expenses, eventually collecting more than $13,000, according to Annalisa.
In February, Annalisa met Nazir, Sakina, and Ibrahim, at the Milan airport.
“In the beginning Sakina was a little bit scared because of all the new people and the new environment,” Nazir said. “She could not understand Italian and not many people spoke English, which she knows a little-little. But by the third day, everyone at the hospital was like family for Sakina. Volunteers come for playing with her and reading to her. After that, she was fine.”
The surgery took place Feb. 17.
“Ibrahim was nervous on that day, but I tell him ‘No problem,’ and took him for some walking outside the hospital and to a coffee shop,” Nazir said. “Then after she came out from the surgery, he says it is OK.”
It was touch and go for a few days. Frigiola said Sakina’s operation, which involved eight cardiac and pediatric specialists, had been one of the hospital’s most complicated.
Shortly after surgery, Annalisa wrote on her blog: “I just saw Sakina … the emotion was indescribable. I did not even realize I was crying. … The weight like a backpack was too heavy. I fell from the heart, and quiet invaded me like a warm blanket. She is full of tubes, has a cerottone sternum, her hands bandaged to hold the various sensors and central venous and arterial, grimacing in pain every time she tries to cough, but she is alive and well.”
A day later, Annalisa wrote: “I need all of your thoughts, your prayers. Sakina is not good. She is still in intensive care, has a high fever, bronchial secretions and her left ventricle does not pump adequately.”
But Sakina was out of intensive care shortly thereafter. Within a week, she was walking and talking and back in the hospital playroom.
Italian media took an interest in Sakina’s story. “There were six newspapers and one television station came to the hospital,” Nazir said.
And during her recovery, Sakina was even able to help with fundraising for her surgery.
“We visited some schools and one gym club where they have 4,000 members and supported Sakina with a marathon race,” Nazir said in February. “They are all very big fans of Greg Mortenson and CAI. Everyone we meet, they are very cooperative and the doctors have done a great job.”
After 20 days in Italy, the trio returned to Pakistan.
“She is very well, eating and playing,” Nazir said this week. “She has a big scar, but the stitches are out and everything is fine.”
Sakina will remain in Rawalpindi for another week or so, then shift to Skardu for a month. By May, about a year after this saga began, Ibrahim and a healthy Sakina will make a triumphant return to Korphe.
QUOTE: Love is the best medicine, and there is more than enough to go around once you open your heart. – Julie Marie
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
KABUL, Afghanistan – Lida*, a 35-year-old mother of six, spent most of her life unable to read, write or do simple math. She couldn’t sign her own name, read a simple shop sign, or even make a shopping list.
Then a couple of years ago, Lida heard about a Central Asia Institute-supported literacy program in her neighbor’s home. She got her husband’s permission to attend, six days a week for nine months.
Using a set of literacy primers in Dari or Pashto, Lida and the other women and girls spent several hours a day sitting on the floor in a crowded room, their primers in their laps and their eyes on the teacher.
Because “the last 30 years have been fighting in Afghanistan, there is no chance” for most women and girls to get an education, said Safiya, CAI’s women’s program manager in Kabul. They were denied education because of war, extremist bans on girls’ education, societal dictates, distance from a girls’ school, lack of female teachers, and early marriage – barriers to girls’ education abound in Afghanistan.
The result is that only 13 percent of adult females in Afghanistan, according to UNICEF, are literate.
But now, these home-based literacy courses offer hundreds of women a chance. “It’s not too late for me,” women tell me over and over again.
By the time Lida and her classmates were done with the course, they had the equivalent of a third or fourth-grade education. And their futures, and those of their children, became a lot brighter.
GLOBAL RECOGNITION OF WOMEN
Today, on International Women’s Day (IWD), we at CAI celebrate the remarkable achievements of Lida and all the women like her fighting for a better future.
“IWD is a minor event in the United States, but in many countries – including Afghanistan and Russia – it is actually a national holiday,” said Greg Mortenson, CAI’s co-founder.
In recognition of the day, women of the Afghan Air Force were honored in a special event this week; hundreds of Afghan women and girls rallied in the streets of Kabul and other cities to demand their rights; and the country’s first-ever international women’s film festival opened Thursday in Herat.
Women also rallied in Pakistan’s rural, conservative desert town of Bahaalpur, while in Multan, a candlelight vigil was held to honor female victims of violence.
In Tajikistan, where IWD is now called International Mother’s Day, many leading women in government, law enforcement, military, education, and business gathered in Dushanbe to celebrate and push their demands for greater equality and reforms.
However, there is still a long, long way to go.
Women’s work still accounts for two-thirds of the world’s total hours spent in labor. Women produce half of the world’s food. Yet women only earn 10 percent of the world’s income (typically earning 50 percent less than men) and own less than 1 percent of the world’s property.
One of the primary ways females are oppressed is education. An estimated 66 million girls around the world are not in school, according to UNESCO, for reasons ranging from culture to family economics, exploitation, early marriage and religious oppression under false pretense.
Consider this alarming statistic: In South Sudan, a country of 12 million people, only 400 girls have made it to higher secondary school and remain enrolled.
And in Yemen, although the legal marriage age for women is 18, UN data shows that 52 percent of girls are married before that age, some as young as 8 years old. Boys, on the other hand, are seldom forced into child marriages.
Few people are aware that on a global scale, 12.3 million people are bought and sold as slaves, and 60 percent of them are female. And of the 5.3 million slaves forced to work in the sex industry, 98 percent are women.
EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION
Education is the key to reversing these tragic statistics.
After Lida, for example, finished her literacy course in Kabul, the world opened up for her in unexpected ways.
She decided that basic literacy was only her first step. She wanted skills, too.
Almost immediately after finishing the literacy program, she enrolled in a CAI-supported vocational program, also in a neighbor’s home. There she learned how to make clothes – from measuring and cutting to stitching and trimming.
“Now I will make clothes for my children, then for the village and slowly get money for supporting my own children’s education,” Lida said last July. “I have six children, four are in school, the other two are too young. I use the money to buy notebooks and supplies for their schooling. In Afghanistan, men don’t give (women) money. My husband has a little bit of education, but he is a farmer. If our children have education, Afghanistan will improve and develop. Security is the most important issue for us, and I know that when people have education, then security will follow.”
Lida knows through her own experience what the experts have been saying for decades – investment in girls’ education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty, for individuals, for their communities, and for the world. Academic studies consistently show that educating girls has profound impacts on any society. According to various UN agencies:
• Educating girls is the most effective way to reduce the world’s population explosion.
• The best long-term way to reduce infant and maternal mortality is girls’ education.
• On average, every year a girl stays in school beyond fifth grade delays her marriage by a year, and educated women have smaller and healthier families.
• Educated, literate women recognize the benefits of health care, can read instructions, and seek appropriate healthcare services for their families.
• Education helps women know their rights, especially regarding land ownership, and gain confidence to claim them.
• An educated mother is more likely to encourage her children’s education.
• Educated mothers in the labor force are more likely to share household resources and income with their children and communities.
EDUCATION TRUMPS VIOLENCE
Lida’s comments also point to the links between education and the fight against extremist violence.
Extremists often use religion as rationale to deny education to girls. But there is actually no major religion that prohibits education for women, including Islam. Along those lines, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Masood Khan reminded a UN audience this past Monday of the courage of Malala Yousefi, who was attacked for her stand on girls’ education.
“Those who deny women and girls the right to education violate Islam,” and “represent forces of darkness,” he said. Click here for full article.
Greg has long advocated that the path to a more peaceful world is through “books not bombs.” He often says, “You can drop bombs or send in troops, build roads, or put in electricity or phones, but unless the girls are educated, a society will never change.”
And a recent academic study by Madiha Afazl, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, confirms the links between education and support for militancy – especially among women.
Afazi studied how Afghan and Pakistani women of varying educational backgrounds relate to terrorism and militancy. “The bottom line from the results is that as women become more educated, they show lower support for militant and terrorists groups” than men of the same educational level, according to her report. “Yet uneducated women show higher support for militancy and terrorism relative to uneducated men.”
We know a lot more in 2013 about the links between education and women’s empowerment than we did more than 100 years ago when International Women’s Day was founded.
And the battle continues. In 1908, thousands of women marched in New York City, demanding better pay, better working conditions, and the right to vote, according to www.internationalwomensday.com, a non-profit philanthropic website. Two years later, a women’s conference in Denmark announced creation of International Women’s Day.
Today IWD is an opportunity to “honor women’s advancement while diligently reminding [the world] of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life,” according to the website.
It is also a chance to remember that the work CAI and others do to promote education, especially for girls, is generational.
Kamela *, also a student in a CAI-supported Kabul literacy center, said she was delighted to have an opportunity to finally get an education. She has two older sisters, both of whom are married and uneducated. Of her four brothers, the younger two are in school.
“But my family won’t let me go to school because it is far from my house, so this is a chance for me to learn,” said Kamela, 18. “Knowledge is very important.”
She also knows her window of opportunity is limited, as she is engaged to be married. “My fiancé says once we are married, no more school.”
But for her daughters?
“I say it strongly – I will make sure my daughters go to school,” Kamela said.
*The names of these young women were changed for their protection.
AFRICAN PROVERB: If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. But if you educate a girl, you educate a community.
- Greg Mortenson and Karin Ronnow
Central Asia Institute’s work is, ultimately, about people. And as I said in my Feb. 18 post on “Faces of Pakistan,” people’s faces often convey what words cannot.
With that in mind, here are more photographs, this time from Afghanistan, of people I’ve met as I document CAI’s work promoting peace through education.
QUOTE: Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man. – Edward Steichen
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Several Central Asia Institute (CAI) Board directors and CAI’s new Executive Director David Starnes attended the American Alpine Club (AAC) dinner and fundraiser near San Francisco, Calif., last Saturday, renewing a relationship that dates back to the early 1990s.
The sold-out event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Americans On Everest expedition, of which former CAI Board Chairman Tom Hornbein was a member. Specifically, the dinner honored four “living legends” from that expedition: Hornbein, David Dingman, Norman Dyhrenfurth, and Jim Whittaker.
CAI’s collaborative relationship with AAC began in the mid-1990s, when CAI Co-founder Greg Mortenson was struggling to start his work promoting education in northern Pakistan. “The AAC leadership, members, and climbers played a significant role to help get the ball rolling,” Greg recalled this week.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Denali East Buttress climb on Alaska’s Mount McKinley. Jed Williamson, a current member of CAI’s board, was on that expedition and was among those representing CAI at AAC’s Feb. 23 events. Jed, a previous AAC board president, has also edited the AAC’s annual “Accidents in North American Mountaineering” for 38 years.
CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett joined Jed and David Saturday afternoon at AAC’s Everest Anniversary Festival, which included documentary films, panel discussions, lectures, storytelling, and awards. The trio manned a table, provided information about CAI, and answered questions posed by festival participants.
“The American Alpine Club provided a warm welcome to Steve, Jed, and I as we answered questions, provided updates, and re-engaged with old friends of Central Asia Institute after a bit of a hiatus from the public events circuit,” David said. “A big thank you to Phil Powers, president of AAC, and other AAC board members for extending a hand of friendship and support.”
CAI board member Howard Slayen and George McCown, long-time CAI supporter and husband of CAI board member Karen McCown, joined the CAI crew for dinner, an event that drew an estimated 700 people. Many AAC members and supporters are also CAI supporters
Steve said afterwards that CAI’s participation was important and had been well received.
“A number of people stopped by, most expressing appreciation for CAI, inquiring in a positive way about where the organization was going, making a point of wishing Greg well and looking forward to seeing him active again, and just generally making very positive comments,” he said.
“Coupled with the Sonia Shah Memorial School fundraiser in Chicago, this was a very great weekend for the education of young women in Pakistan,” Steve added.
Since he started working in the Karakoram Mountains of northern Pakistan almost two decades ago, Greg has frequently helped climbers who visit the area. They have returned the favor in myriad ways.
“Numerous renowned climbers and AAC members, most of who have climbed in Pakistan, reached out to help CAI, often during difficult periods in our evolution, and spurred other climbers to help with humanitarian causes in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountain villages,” Greg said.
Greg listed some of those climbers, including: Louis Reichardt, Jack Tackle, Nick Clinch, Jim Wickwire, George Lowe, Scott Darsney, Brent Bishop, Conrad Anker, Annie Whitehouse, Dan Mazur, Charley Shimanski, Alison Osius, Tom Hornbein, Phil Powers, Gordon Wiltsie, Doug Chabot, Yvon Chouinard, and Steve Swenson. He also heralded the contributions of numerous now-deceased climbers: Tom Vaughan, Galen Rowell, Alex Lowe, Pete Schoening, Bob Bates, Charles Houston, Gil Roberts, George Bell, Seth Shaw, and Ned Gillette – and their families.
The American Alpine Club is a nonprofit organization founded in 1902 “that provides knowledge and inspiration, conservation and advocacy, and logistical support for the climbing community,” according to its website.
QUOTE: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Central Asia Institute
Five years ago, the upper-school students at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Ill., like thousands of other students around the world, read “Three Cups of Tea,” by CAI’s Co-founder Greg Mortenson.
“It was the type of book that did not allow for an idle reading,” Aaron Regunberg, a senior that year, later wrote. “After hearing this man’s mission and accomplishments, we were each irresistibly drawn to the thought, ‘Well, we have to do something now.’”
But this particular reading assignment at this particular school has resulted in a remarkable chain of events – a story of inspiration and hard work, joy and despair, faith and love that keeps generating new chapters.
In 2008, the NSCDS students embarked on a campaign to provide a school and education for the more than 200 students attending a school with four benches, a blackboard and one teacher, in Moshi, Tanzania, on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The senior class raised more than $30,000 to build the school, visited Tanzania, and got it running. Coincidentally, Moshi happened to be the village where Greg had lived for the first 15 years of his life. When he spoke to the students in Wilmette that spring, he applauded and encouraged their efforts.
But his message particularly resonated with one young girl in the audience.
Sonia Shah was a 14-year-old ninth-grader at NSCDS that spring. “She was an exceptionally bright, hardworking, and engaged student with a multicultural background,” Greg said.
Soon after Greg’s visit to her school, Sonia and her family moved to Switzerland. “From the age of 4, she had traveled with us and lived on three continents, in five countries and spoke five languages,” her mother, Iram Shah, said last week. “Every time she went to a new school, I thought she would have difficulty, but she managed to fit right in.”
With a love of history, different cultures, places and people, Sonia was compassionate yet practical, proud to be both a Pakistani Muslim and an all-American girl, “truly a global citizen,” her mother said.
She was also a girl with a dream. Inspired by Greg, Sonia dreamed of building a girls’ school in her ancestral village of Kangra, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
She graduated a year early from her Zurich high school, and took a “gap year” (summer 2011-summer 2012) to pursue that dream. Her decision to go to Kangra – an impoverished village in the tribal areas of Pakistan, a region where extremist violence and Taliban suicide bombings had become commonplace – worried her family.
“When she left, people called me and [said] either I was too brave or too stupid,” Iram recalled. “My own family has not lived in that village [for many years] and here a 17-year-old American-born girl was going to live for weeks. I didn’t stop her because I knew she had made up her mind.” She also knew that Sonia’s “innate balance, ability to see both sides of any issue” would serve her well.
In Kangra, Sonia lived among the people in their rustic homes, amid 100-degree-plus temperatures, through electricity outages, and shortages of potable water. She spent time with the school-age girls, and identified a piece of land for the school.
As part of her effort to raise money for the school, Sonia wrote a blog about her experiences: “I feel supporting education for girls in Pakistan is such an integral part of Pakistan’s movement towards stability and development, especially at a time when both seem so unlikely. With the government spending approximately 13% of its GDP on defense and only 2% on education, Pakistan’s education system is heavily reliant on private funding. The poorest Pakistani families often go to great lengths to ensure that they can afford to send their sons to school, but rarely do the same for their daughters.”
When Sonia returned to the United States, she kept her determined pace. She started a nonprofit organization, the Kulsoom Foundation, named after her maternal grandmother. She designed a website. And she knocked at the door of every NGO that might partner with her or have something to teach her, Iram said. Danial Noorani, founder and CEO of The Citizens Foundation-USA, was a particularly influential mentor and helped her devise a motto: “A girl. A dream. A Mission,”
Meanwhile, Sonia also applied to colleges. In one application, she reflected on her grandmother’s sacrifice, leaving the village to move her children to the city and better schools, and her mother’s sacrifice, leaving to travel to the US for higher education. “I have always been keenly aware that the efforts of my grandmother and mother are all that stood between me and the life of an underprivileged Pakistani village girl. It is only through the work of the women that came before me that I don’t live in ignorance and isolation, and every girl in Pakistan deserves the chance to create similar change for herself and those around her.”
In another essay, she wrote: “My heroes have always been brilliant, flawed people who have acted, who have changed our history and made our world. Now I want to join, instead of only watching them. I want to serve and help others. I want to leave this world knowing that I have changed it in some quantifiable, positive way, no matter how miniscule.”
One of those “brilliant, flawed people” was Greg. Several months earlier, she had written a letter to him and to CAI in the wake of media allegations.
“Following the talk and controversy that has surrounded Greg Mortenson in recent weeks, I have decided to speak out about my own beliefs,” Sonia wrote “After reading his book and hearing him speak, I was amazed by this American who had done such incredible work in my ancestral home despite the barriers or language, culture, and religion. I feel it is important for me and for others to remember this now. … Without the example of Greg Mortenson to follow, I would never have had the courage or initiative to begin such an ambitious project.”
In addition to her humanitarian goals, Sonia wanted a career in politics. And in 2012, she landed her dream job – an internship with President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
Sonia was one of the youngest interns on the Obama team. Her father, Mahmood, said she threw herself into the campaign, working dawn to dusk almost daily for months.
She also got the good news that she’d been accepted at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
But on the night before she left to begin her freshman year, tragedy struck. Sonia was killed in a car accident in Chicago.
Everyone who knew her was devastated. Obama even wrote the family a letter conveying sympathy. “My team says that although Sonia was one of the youngest interns at campaign headquarters, she was one of the most determined. There’s no doubt that her dedication will continue to inspire all those who were lucky enough to work with her,” Obama wrote.
Inspiration and determination – two words that followed Sonia everywhere she went. Her parents knew that, even in their grief.
“Every parent has a dream for their children and my dream as a mother to see Sonia grow up into a mature woman, get married and have children will never be fulfilled, but I guess her dream was more meaningful than my dream for her,” Iram said. “She had a dream of helping the poor girls of a small village in Pakistan. She wanted to make a difference and leave a legacy behind.”
Iram and Mahmood are pursuing that legacy on her behalf.
In yet another coincidence, Iram had joined CAI’s board of directors in July 2012. Her background in marketing strategy and business development, her work for multinational corporations, and her roots in Pakistan made Iram a good fit with CAI.
Her determination to fulfill her daughter’s dream, however, has also created a unique opportunity for Iram’s dream of getting numerous nonprofits to work together on this project.
The first step was a gala event, Rahmania for Sonia, last Friday night.
Iram and a vast team of Sonia’s friends and peers worked tirelessly to pull off the Feb. 23 event in suburban Chicago. More than 400 people celebrated Sonia’s life and achievements, donated to the Kulsoom Foundation, and enjoyed dinner and live entertainment by the highly acclaimed singer-songwriter A.R. Rahman.
“Iram’s vision was to make this a celebration of the potential of youth to change the world, as well as a celebration of song and music, dance, poetry and art – all of which Sonia loved so much,” Greg said. “She also wanted to bring together diverse people and organizations, as Sonia had often done, around this common cause.”
The event opened with Iram’s impassioned speech about Sonia. Then Danial Noorani from TCF took the stage and remembered a girl who had blazed a trail, negotiated complex deals, built relationships, and set up a nonprofit organization – enormous accomplishments for such a young woman. Dr. Asif Anwar read a poem he had written in Sonia’s memory, and Sonia’s uncle, Dr. Mian Arshad Jan, told stories about his beloved niece.
Iram then invited Greg to the stage with this introduction: “I have never seen anyone so dedicated and passionate about girls’ education as Greg is, and I have never seen any American as dedicated and passionate about Pakistan’s remote areas as Greg. We are all inspired by him and it was this inspiration that inspired Sonia.”
Greg gave a 10-minute speech in which he emphasized the role of youth in general, and Sonia in particular, in changing the world today.
As everyone grapples with the incredible loss of Sonia, he reminded the crowd that, “Girls’ education is the most powerful weapon against poverty and Sonia got that.”
He added, “the future is in God’s hands, but the future of Sonia’s Kangra School is in our hands.”
This was the first time in 22 months Greg had spoken at a public event. When asked later in the evening why he had opted to participate in person, he said he had been motivated by love, plain and simple.
“The Kangra School project is planned to be a collaborative project, between CAI, HDF, TCF, and Kulsoom Foundation, and fulfills the legacy of Sonia to rally people and organizations together for a common good,” Greg said. “The loss of a young woman like Sonia – a dreamer, visionary and a do-er, like CAI’s Sarfraz Khan, leaves us at a loss for words that such tragic things can happen. But both their spirits are very much alive today and that gives us the motivation to go forward with hope and courage.”
The evening concluded with a colorful blend of Hindustani, rap and Chicago hipster music, full of energy, dancing and time for visiting, with much of the crowd remaining until well after midnight.
“We are here to carry on [Sonia’s] legacy,” Iram said that night. “We lost a precious life, but her death will not be in vain. Her dream has become our mission. And you have a big role to play in this mission. Those girls in the village are waiting for us.”
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
The 2013 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar is still available for $10!.
In 2012, photographer Erik Petersen and CAI Communication Director Karin Ronnow documented CAI projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The calendar includes stunning photography of CAI projects, plus explanations of CAI’s programs and a map of the areas we serve.
Proceeds from all calendar sales help CAI carry out its mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
BOZEMAN, Mont. – The dozen Afghan students had spent two days preparing for the moment last Friday at 7:50 p.m., when they huddled around Central Asia Institute-provided computer equipment in a basement in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The purpose of the huddle was educational, but it wasn’t a test or a computer class. The Afghan students – boys and girls from seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade – were there to meet their middle-school peers in America via Skype, the live computer video program.
In Bozeman, meanwhile, about 220 seventh-graders at Sacajawea Middle School were crowded in a hallway, waiting for the clock to hit 8:20 a.m. – the time when they would be linked via the Internet with their counterparts halfway around the world.
The Afghan and American students had been learning about each other’s countries – one of the poorest and one of the richest on the planet – and writing “pen-pal” letters as part of a CAI-supported exchange.
But when a Sacajawea student* suggested, “If there is Internet in Afghanistan, why can’t we just Skype instead of waiting weeks for our letters to get back to each other?” – an idea was born.
The irony in the execution, however, was that although the electricity (provided by a generator), technology, and live feed were ready in Kabul, the call was delayed briefly in Bozeman due to a last-minute technological glitch. A Sacajawea student was surprised and said, “Wow, that’s amazing that everything works so well in Afghanistan.”
Once the link was established, the students’ faces lit up with smiles as they applauded the connection.
Khyber Mortenson, the son of CAI Co-founder Greg Mortenson, had travelled to Pakistan and spoken to his classmates about life and education in the region. Wearing a shalwar kameez (traditional clothing), he served as Skype host. He gave the thumbs-up sign, and said, “Let’s get started.”
The Sacajawea students had learned how to greet their counterparts, and began with the salutation, “Asalaam-Alaikum” (peace be with you).
The Afghan students enthusiastically responded, “Waalaikum Salaam” (and may peace be with you).
Gordon Grissom, Sacajawea principal, wearing a tan Afghan pakhol (felt hat), then introduced himself and his students to Wakil Karimi, who coordinates CAI projects in Afghanistan, and the Afghan students. Gordon welcomed everyone and stressed the importance of building bridges of understanding and peace with events like this.
In turn, Wakil introduced himself, congratulated all the students and said, “This is an important day that Afghan and American students can join in friendship, and we are very happy.”
Kenny Bies, a Sacajawea guidance counselor who also coordinates students’ volunteerism and community and global activism, also welcomed the Afghan students and said he was proud of everyone who had been involved in helping the students connect.
The students then had a chance to ask questions of each other.
The Sacajawea students learned that most of the Afghan students are poor, speak several languages (including Pastho, Dari, Arabic, English and some local dialects), and have access to a dozen different subjects in their schools.
One American girl asked the Afghan students about daily life in Afghanistan. One of the Afghan girls replied, in English, that her main concern was safety. “When we leave our house, we are afraid we might get beaten by the Taliban and they also might attack the school. So we have to be brave and strong and not afraid.”
One of the boys at Sacajawea asked about sports and was thrilled to hear that his new Afghan friends shared his love of soccer, in addition to their passion for cricket, volleyball and badminton.
When an Afghan girl asked the Americans if they like school, the reply was a resounding, “Yes!”
The students could have talked all day (and night, in Afghanistan) about their shared values and differences, and the time passed quickly. As the Skype session came to a close, the Afghan students passionately sang the Afghan national school song, “Maurif-Tarana,” which brought a round of applause from the American students.
Then it was time to say good-bye and the students on both sides of the planet stood up and waved to each other.
After the computers were turned off, one Sacajawea student commented that she thought the Afghan girls were so brave, and that they were her new heroes.
“We were so impressed with the courage of the Afghan children and teachers,” said Bies, the school counselor. “It is impressive to hear their strong voices, and see the passion and joy in each of the children’s eyes.”
The principal concurred. “What an exciting opportunity for our seventh-grade students to be able to Skype with the students in Afghanistan today,” Grissom said. “Building connections with kids like themselves on the other side of the globe opens up the world of our students, and creates the foundation for greater awareness and understanding of others. It was a joy to participate in this event.”
Both the Afghan and American students said they hoped for more Skype sessions as they patiently wait for snail mail to deliver their letters to each other.
*With one exception, students’ names have been omitted from the story to protect their privacy.
QUOTE: Men build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Isaac Newton
- Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder
Human faces, everyday faces, captivate the imagination.
In my work with Central Asia Institute, I meet girls and boys, men and women, students and teachers, mullahs and midwives, farmers and herders, warlords and elders, drivers and bricklayers, siblings and grandparents.
I collect their words and stories to share with CAI’s supporters. I listen to their hopes and dreams for themselves, their families, their villages, and their countries.
Yet I have found that their faces often convey what words cannot.
So here, then, are some of those faces, captured in photos shot in January in Pakistan’s Northern Areas and around the capital city, Islamabad.
QUOTE: Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it? – Pablo Picasso
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Seven years after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake devastated Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Central Asia Institute remains committed to helping ensure girls’ access to education in the region’s remote mountain communities.
The nature of CAI’s work in the region, however, has evolved.
“CAI built temporary, prefabricated buildings after the earthquake,” said Fozia Naseer, who now leads our efforts in the disputed region of Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). “We also have a teacher-support program in Kashmir, with 35 teachers, and a scholarship program. Last year, CAI added one permanent building for Muzaffarabad Girls’ Elementary College, a teacher-training college.
“Central Asia Institute is working to sustain all the projects in Kashmir; we try to keep it simple and important for the communities. We are repairing schools one by one and providing basic support for all CAI schools in Kashmir,” she said.
AJK is a difficult place to work, especially for a woman. The region is conservative. It is rugged country, with villages built up the sides of mountains that often rock with seismic activity. And it is a heavily militarized “disputed territory” that Pakistan and India have fought over for more than 60 years. As a result, AJK is closed to most foreign NGOs, tourists and journalists unless they have special permission.
Most of the international aid groups that came to help after the 2005 quake left a long time ago. But CAI has worked hard to continue its support of education, especially for girls, in the region. And now with Fozia – a Kashmir native, the region’s first locally educated female lawyer, and a former teacher – on board, CAI is well situated for what comes next.
“Fozia is a perfect example of the ‘next-step’ local manager CAI needs going forward – to monitor schools, demonstrate accountability, work with teachers, involve community, build the capacity of a team,” CAI Executive Director Anne Beyersdorfer said after she met with Fozia here earlier this month.
Students and teachers were in their classrooms when the earthquake hit at 8:50 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2005. Many school buildings collapsed, trapping thousands and killing an estimated 18,000 students and more than 900 teachers, according to UNESCO statistics.
The quake triggered landslides that blocked roads and knocked out bridges, cutting off rescuers’ access to millions of victims in the remote villages. The heaviest damage was in the mountainous Muzaffarabad area of AJK, about 90 miles northeast of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Big aftershocks continued for weeks.
The numbers were staggering: more than 80,000 people killed; another 3 million left homeless; and more than 7,000 schools and colleges – 96 percent – fully or partially destroyed, according to UNESCO.
CAI had, by that time, worked in Pakistan for almost a decade and our supporters, staff, and board immediately began to consider what CAI could do to help. International aid groups were providing humanitarian aid – food, blankets, tents and emergency medical care. But it became increasingly clear that the government was in no position to begin rebuilding schools anytime soon, especially in the remote villages of the Neelum Valley.
So Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder, dispatched CAI’s “most-remote-areas” project manager Sarfraz Khan (who died in 2012) to Kashmir to see what CAI could do to help. On a tour of the affected region, Sarfraz saw an immediate need for temporary schools.
After establishing relationships in several communities in the Neelum Valley, Sarfraz initially provided tents and furniture, primarily for girls’ schools, and later erected more than a dozen earthquake-proof, prefabricated schools, ensuring that hundreds of children were able to continue their education while the region recovered.
Greg, who visited AJK with Sarfraz after the earthquake, described the scene as chaotic and complex.
“What was disparaging about the Azad earthquake in 2005 is that although hundreds of NGOs scrambled to help, the region was paralyzed without shelter, electricity, water, roads, cell phones, and infrastructure, and little aid reached the villages,” he said.
One difficulty in working in AJK is the climate. The mountainous region receives copious amounts of rain, causing frequent landslides, which block roads, damage fields and destroy buildings.
Last fall, for example, heavy rain caused a landslide just behind the CAI-supported Mingraan School, causing a couple of classroom walls to cave in. No one was hurt, but the cleanup and repairs were substantial.
“We are trying to fix the wall before winter rain” starts, Fozia said at the time.
But when Fozia and the repair crew went to see the damage, they discovered that the community had cut the word “Girls’” out of the school sign. When Fozia asked one of the teachers, Samiullah, why, he told her that the government had finally come along and built a girls’ school in the village. But the community needed classrooms, so they opted to expand the CAI-supported school to include boys.
Mingran is not the only school in this position, a situation that CAI celebrates as evidence that the government has begun to focus on school reconstruction.
“Four of the CAI schools have been replaced by the government with permanent structures,” Fozia said. “This is good as long as girls continue to get education.”
In some cases the CAI-supported building was removed. In other cases, such as Mingran, the community needs the extra classrooms and continues to use the prefabricated structure.
Either way, “we keep track of the schools for as long as they are on the ground and provide school and community support,” she said.
In addition to the school buildings, CAI in AJK has increasingly focused on scholarships for higher education and teacher support.
“People understand the need for these programs and we have so many requests for the future to move ahead with these great programs,” Fozia said.
The scholarship program currently supports 18 girls in their quest for higher education in Muzaffarabad, AJK’s capital city.
“I see a great future for those girls,” Fozia said. “They can get benefit from CAI and opportunity for their lives.
“I know life is not smooth for females here, but we can try our best and take steps towards hope, education, and our goals of peace through education. We are slow, but inshallah steady, and this work is important for the long run.”
Also important for the long run is support of female teachers and female teachers-in-training. Reconstruction of the teacher-training college in Muzaffarabad – CAI supported construction of a two-story, permanent building — was a big step toward getting students out of the weather and into a structure with all the amenities needed to train the next generation of teachers.
Teacher pay also helps ensure that students in CAI-supported schools are getting quality education. Too often, government schools are overcrowded and understaffed. By helping with salaries, the school can employ more teachers. CAI currently supports 35 teachers.
“We have teachers in Neelum Valley, Muzaffarabad, and in the remote area at the end of Poonch district,” Fozia said.
The Poonch teachers are the latest addition.
“All are government schools, but one has all students in one damaged classroom,” Fozia said. “In another place the students sit outside. Another is so far that you have to walk to it, you can’t drive, so teachers [who aren’t from that village] don’t want to go there.
“We got requests from the community saying they wanted to send their children to school, but they need more teachers. Also the Education Department asked us for some help. We started to pay teachers there in August. Schools are closed there in winter because of mountains, but they will be back at school in March.”
Fozia is also considering how best to arrange a CAI-supported teacher-training program this year. In January, Fozia joined her CAI colleagues Saidullah Baig and Dilshad Begum in Gilgit to observe a two-week training program there.
“Saidullah and Dilshad did a great job putting all the resources together,” Fozia said. “They started a great opportunity for the remote-area teachers, gave knowledge to them and exposed them to new teaching skills and teaching methods. It is just a beginning for those teachers, who can take it all back with them to their schools and to their communities.
“It was also a great experience for me. It is great to have this experience to see how CAI works in different communities and gather ideas, which we can use in our communities, too,” she said.
“CAI is making a successful investment in community-based education and I hope that it would continue for long term,” she said.
- Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director
Cindy Harris from Bettendorf, Iowa recently contacted Central Asia Institute and told us that her eleven year-old daughter, Genny “wrote a poem as part of a project she did on Afghanistan. We are not of Afghan descent. We are simply proud of our daughter who has learned tolerance, compassion and most of all – empathy for others.” Cindy and Genny were kind enough to share her poem with us:
My Home, Afghanistan
By: Genny Harris
Run. To the village where children play.
Race. Past the fields where poppies sway.
Fly. Like the kites that dance in the sky.
Sprint. As you sweat from the heat of July.
Dash. Away from the danger that surrounds.
Dart. Back home where you might be safe and sound.
Jog. Past the mountains that loom very tall.
Walk. To the cliff where you might take a fall.
Our culture is rich, our culture is true, but our way of life is prejudiced too. We live among terrorists, in our hearts they strike fear, but without understanding, many will continue to jeer.
With our neighboring countries we may not agree, but hatred and greed are our real enemies.
We have nothing, a fool might say, but if we have nothing, how can our hope light the way?
We will always have hope, this much is true, even when all seems lost, and the sky never blue.
When war rages on, and the future seems dim, some might lose hope, their faces quite grim. I do not live in Syria, Iraq, nor Iran, I live in my home, my home Afghanistan. Only when our world is rid of hatred and greed, can the most beautiful thing in the world: peace, be achieved.
The level of understanding that Genny has as a sixth grader about a culture across the world is inspiring. The poem and the message that it conveys is consistent with CAI’s service learning program, Pennies for Peace. Some of the first CAI supporters were children who collected pennies to help other children halfway around the world.
Genny attends school at Bettendorf Middle School and enjoys writing, reading, drawing, painting, and soccer. She explained that in her class assignment she was able to choose a culture that is different from hers and to write about it. This was part of an extended learning program. Other classmates chose topics such as India, Judaism, and slavery. Genny chose Afghanistan. She read the book titled “Extra Credit” by Andrew Clements, a story about a pen-pal exchange between a sixth-grader in Illinois and a boy in Afghanistan. Genny stated that, “When I first chose the book, I wasn’t thinking about what it was about until I realized that this isn’t anything like you hear. We have a lot of prejudice about the way they [Afghans] live and the kind of people they are.” Genny was inspired by the works of the poet, Emily Dickinson, and decided to complete her assignment in the form of a poem.
When I asked Genny if there is anything else she’d like me to know, she said “I really enjoyed writing this and learning about the culture. Some parts of it are really sad, like the way women are treated over there, and I really like the Pennies for Peace program because when I read about it, it was a really good message and it was children helping people.”
Children just like Genny all around the world have collectively raised over $6.9 million, often in pennies or small change, to promote peace through education through CAI’s Pennies for Peace program. It is designed to help students broaden their cultural horizons, learn about their capacities as philanthropists, educates them about the world beyond their experience, and shows them that even they can make a positive impact on a global scale. Genny has certainly learned the rewards of different cultures working together to bring hope and opportunity for peace.
- Jennifer Sipes, CAI’s operations director
Central Asia Institute has hired a new executive director, David Starnes.
David, a 57-year-old father of three, will join us in late February after winding down his work with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives-Pakistan. He brings to the job more than 30 years experience as a professional and organizational development consultant, working with nonprofit, for-profit and government organizations, including 19 years as executive director of the Baltimore-Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound Center.
David joins us just as we are gearing up for the 2013 building and maintenance season. In the past year, bolstered by our supporters’ continued confidence, we sustained our commitment to more than 300 existing projects, and initiated 60 new projects: 20 in Pakistan, 36 in Afghanistan, and four in Tajikistan. As most of our projects are in the remote Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Pamir mountains, springtime is the busiest season.
“I am looking forward to working with CAI’s team both in the United States and in the communities it serves,” David said. “CAI has made a profound impact on people’s awareness of the need for education and community health initiatives in the remote and rural villages of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. I’m excited to be on board.”
Greg Mortenson, CAI’s co-founder, served as executive director from CAI’s founding in 1996 until December 2011. He remains on staff, playing a supportive role, primarily with overseas programs and relationships. He will also continue to help with fundraising.
“With a new, capable board of directors and the experienced leadership of David Starnes, CAI is ready to move strongly into the future,” Greg said.
David currently serves as the deputy country representative for USAID–Office of Transition Initiatives in Pakistan. He has been in Pakistan since January 2010 working with the Pakistan government in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province to provide basic support and stabilization services for communities in the critically important border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Prior to taking the USAID post, David spent a month as a volunteer in Jordan, teaching English at a Palestinian refugee camp. From 2008 to 2009, David worked as a senior program analyst with Stanley, Baker, Hill LLC in support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)–Office of Safety and Health in Iraq.
Stateside, David worked with Outward Bound USA for more than 20 years in a variety of senior executive roles, including his years at the Baltimore center, Outward Bound’s first urban center. He worked with local government officials to initiate the Philadelphia center, and played a key leadership role in shaping Outward Bound USA’s long-term strategy on urban centers.
David earned both his bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation administration and master’s in public administration at Western Illinois University. He has three adult children, Justin, 28, Rachael, 26, and Sarah, 24.
CAI launched a nationwide search to fill the executive director’s position and received dozens of qualified applicants, said Steve Barrett, chairman of the CAI board of directors.
“CAI is excited to have someone of David’s background and experience join us in our mission to promote literacy and education, especially for girls,” said Steve, a Bozeman attorney and former member of the Montana University System’s Board of Regents. “David’s extensive experience in community development and his past three years in Pakistan uniquely qualify him to help CAI continue to fulfill its mission of the last 17 years. Our board is thrilled and we look forward to David joining our team.”
Last August, Greg noted HERE: “Being executive director of Central Asia Institute is a unique task with incredible rewards. More than a job, it is a calling. … We look forward to the added vitality that this person will bring to the CAI team – especially during these particularly challenging times in the communities CAI serves in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.”
CAI’s mission remains critical to the future of the countries where we work. The ravages of war, extremism, and drug trafficking, combined with the inability of governments to provide adequate educational opportunities are of great concern. We believe education, especially for girls, is the key to a more peaceful future.
QUOTE: True leadership lies in guiding others to success. In ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do and doing it well. – Bill Owens
- Central Asia Institute
KHURD, Pakistan – People filled every available chair and patch of ground in the schoolyard on opening day of the Central Asia Institute-supported Khurd Government Girls’ High School.
They sat two to a chair, plunked down on the ground, leaned against walls. Women rocked babies. Young men sat at the feet of the turbaned old men. Everyone cheered and applauded, and celebrated the inauguration of the first girls’ high school in the area.
“The people of this area have been backward with respect to education due to lack of facilities, especially for girls’ education,” said English teacher Arshad Mehmood, who emceed the school inauguration on Jan. 29, 2013. “There was no girls’ high school nearby. Most of the students had to give up because of lack of access. Now CAI has gifted this building to the people of the area. At last, people get solution to their problem.
“The Koran says, ‘A gift of God will make its way to stone walls.’ And this is indeed a beautiful building – by all measures,” Mehmood said.
Khurd Girls’ High School is CAI’s eighth project in northern Punjab Province. Until this week, the village girls’ school was housed in a ramshackle three-room building. Primary classes met inside; the older girls had to study outside, on the ground, “open to the sky,” as Principal Sidra Jabeen said. Many girls dropped out before completing high school, unable to tolerate classes held in the tropical sun and monsoon rains.
“Summer is a very severe season here,” said Isma, who is in class 10 and wants to become an engineer. “When it is so hot, we are just [studying] for a couple of hours and then go to home. In case of rain, go to home. I want to study more and more, but it [has been] very difficult to stay in school.”
The new 11-room building gives the 410 girls in classes six to 10 shelter from the weather, plus a library with computers and a science laboratory. The Jhelum district education officer, who visited the Khurd Girls’ High School the day before the inauguration, declared it the “model school in the district,” said Suleman Minhas, CAI program manager.
The inauguration kicked off at 11 a.m. about a block away from the school. While the girls and women waited inside the school, a pipe and drum corps led a parade of visitors, community elders, men and boys to the ribbon draped across the school’s entrance.
CAI-US Executive Director Anne Beyersdorfer cut the ribbon as the female students inside clapped and sang.
“It is an extraordinary honor to share the gift of education and the gift of Khurd School comes from CAI’s supporters around the globe,” Beyersdorfer said. “The enthusiasm of the students, teachers, and entire community makes me think of Greg and the ripple effect of one individual’s efforts to help others. This school will have a positive impact for generations to come.”
The ceremony included student recitations from the Koran, songs, and speeches. Members of the local education committee, which worked with CAI to establish the school, repeatedly said the school was a “big gift for backward area.”
Khurd’s residents understand the value of education, but most families could not afford to send girls to higher classes in “cityside.” The few lucky girls who could travel, found the “cityside” schools in terrible condition, Principal Jabeen said.
“This is a time of change,” in Pakistan and the world, she said. “We have to make our future. CAI infused our future with hope.”
Until CAI joined hands with the community, a girls’ high school was impossible, said Noor Ul Ain, a committee member. “Without CAI, we would never have this facility, teachers, building – nothing. This was our dream.”
The villagers worked together to donate the land, demonstrating a spirit of cooperation and determination that will yield results for generations, said Shazia Yasmin, the school’s science and Islamiat teacher.
“We live in a time of rapid change, change that is not always predictable or positive,” she said. “There is no better way to prepare for change than education. There is no better investment that parents, teachers, communities, and the nation can make than education.”
Minhas, who called himself a “servant of your children,” urged parents to be involved in their daughters’ education. “Visit to school four to five times a year and ask the teachers, ask the principal, ‘How is my child in school?’”
The CAI-supported schools that Minhas manages are all in impoverished rural villages west of Jhelum, places where clean drinking water, electricity, and health care are scarce or nonexistent. The roads are crumbling and badly rutted, cell-phone service is a relatively new phenomenon, and computers are rare. Girls’ education, in particular, has historically been neglected.
“I am very thankful on behalf of my area for CAI, who is helping to the remote areas” like Khurd, Mehmood said. “With education there will be positive change in people’s attitudes. We turn over a new leaf while eliminating illiteracy. We are grateful to CAI for a wonderful job.”
The ceremony ended with lunch for all in attendance. Then the adults left the building, and classes started for the girls.
“I want education, it is very important to me,” said Saba, a ninth-grade student who wants to become a teacher. “If I get education, I can teach to all children. I am very happy today.”
QUOTE: Education is improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it. – Marian Wright Edelman
- Karin Ronnow
GILGIT, Pakistan – The 74 teachers attending Central Asia Institute-Gilgit’s teacher-training program were practically giddy with excitement on the final day of the course.
Two weeks earlier, when the course began, they had been divided into groups by geographical region and given a big assignment – craft a handmade “book” about your region, including details about the history, population, traditions, culture, and language. They were instructed to use reliable sources, and illustrate their books with drawings, photos, maps, or other graphics.
The results were, in many cases, the first draft of history ever written by local people.
“There were so many events that happened in the past and nobody was writing it, even really good teachers and professors who didn’t think to do that,” said Shahina, a teacher from Gojal Valley, whose five-member group titled its 41-page handmade book, “The Land of Marco Polo Sheep.” “Now we were given the idea to put it together and, really, it was exciting to do this.”
The CAI training program, held Jan. 1-16 during the winter school break in the northern areas, was organized by Saidullah Baig and Dilshad Begum, both of CAI-Gilgit, in conjunction with the Gilgit-based Human Enterprise and Development Institute (HEDI).
The teachers came from remote mountain villages across the region where CAI has established schools or works with existing schools. In many of these isolated communities, there is no electricity (or it is only available for a few hours in the evening), mobile phone service, or Internet. Computers are scarce. Teacher training is a rarity.
So the teachers were thrilled to train with “modern technology,” and work with their peers to develop new skills to take back to their schools.
“Often in this area, trainers go to just one valley or work with people from just one area, but we have a very diverse group, people of many different cultural backgrounds, teachers from primary, middle and secondary levels, and from the most remote valleys,” said Sultan Ahmed, HEDI chairman. “And it’s working because this way the teachers learn not only from the trainers, but also from each other.”
The master trainers, graduates of the Aga Khan University’s Institute of Educational Development, designed workshops on topics ranging from lesson planning to child development and psychology, subject-specific teaching tools, basic computer skills, testing and assessment, among other things.
The results exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“It was a large group, with participants from different backgrounds and different education (levels),” said trainer Doulat Begum. “I was wondering how I was going to teach them. But it was marvelous. Most of the teachers, they didn’t know about assessment or lesson planning. But I involved all of them, getting them to express themselves, speaking, drawing, writing. They have many creative ideas.
“And I will always remember that the questions raised in classes, I was not expecting that much, because they are not trained. But they have the capacity and they raised the questions. Sometimes we underestimate people, but we should not. They have the talents, but they have not had the platform to share it or express themselves,” she said.
The hard work teachers put into the local handbooks evidenced that creativity. Information about these areas is scarce, the teachers found, with few specifics available on the Internet or in books. So the teachers looked elsewhere, calling community elders for interviews, for example.
They all said their books were works in progress, and will be valuable teaching tools.
“If the kids would start writing at the beginning of school, by the time they finish their metric [high school], they would have a whole book,” Shahina, the teacher from Gojal, said. “When you give a task to the students, if they are interested, they will learn better. Now we can go back with this information, and if we can convince the teachers and students to work together, we can write this book of Gojal.”
Trainer Nazir Bulbul, who is also a renowned Wakhi poet, said he hoped that the training also inspired teachers on a deeper level. He repeatedly urged the teachers to find ways to spark a love of learning in their students and create lifelong learners.
“We human beings are only in this world for some time and we have been given some gifts, one of which is our intellect, and we have to nourish that here,” he said. “The other is the soul. And the soul means we have an inner world, and for that inner world we should do what sustains us.”
Education, along with faith, provides that sustenance, he said.
Over the course of the two-week training, word got around, prompting school administrators, teachers, other NGOs, and even government officials to request that CAI repeat the training for other teachers.
Sher Nawaz Khan and two other teachers made the arduous journey from their remote village of Broghil, high in the Hindu Kush Mountains on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, to attend the training. He eloquently summed up the program’s success during the closing ceremony on Wednesday.
“As we were traveling all the way from Broghil, when we crossed the heavy snow, I was wondering if this would bear fruit,” he said. “But I got much more than I expected. I was fortunate to be a part of this wonderful program. I give my heartfelt thanks to CAI.
“Also, because many teachers could not join due to bad weather and road blockage, we hope and pray that your contributions here will continue,” he said.
QUOTE: When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy. – Rumi, 13th century Persian poet
- Karin Ronnow
Following the wonderful feedback on “CAI tent school serves Afghanistan’s Kuchi nomads” last week, we are posting more photographs of that community.
Wakil Karimi, the Central Asia Institute project manager responsible for the Kuchi tent school, took these photos during a June visit to distribute notebooks, pencils and other school supplies.
These photos were taken at the Kuchi summer camp near Kabul. The semi-nomadic tribe has since moved about 100 miles east to its winter grounds near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. CAI provides a tent school for the Kuchi children in both locations.
|« Boy receives supplies: A Kuchi boy receives a new pencil, eraser, sharpener, and a CAI notebook. Other students wait in the tent behind him to receive their new school supplies.|
|« Kids gather: Grateful students at the CAI-supported Kuchi tent school gather for a group photo after receiving their new school supplies in June.|
|« Tea in tent: CAI project manager Wakil Karimi, center, and Kuchi teachers and elders gather to talk over tea with bread and yogurt after school lets out for the day.|
|« Little girl: A young Kuchi girl, in her brightly colored and heavily embroidered homemade dress and scarf, with her new CAI notebook. The words “Seek the Light” are printed in English and Pashto on the cover of each notebook.|
All photos: Central Asia Institute, 2012.
KABUL, Afghanistan – The 110 children studying at the Central Asia Institute-supported Kuchi tent school are fast becoming the first literate generation of their semi-nomadic community.
A few Kuchi adults in the tribe found ways to attend school when they were young. But for the most part this often-overlooked minority population – Kuchi means “nomad” in Dari or Persian – has survived for centuries without being able to read and write.
“There are many differences now that we have the school,” said tribal elder Malik Hashan Khan. In addition to reading and writing, “Now that the children study, they can help us [adults] with things” such as using mobile phones and interacting with the government.
The tent school, which shifts with the 120-family tribe between Kabul and winter pastures near Jalalabad, was the brainchild of CAI project manager Wakil Karimi. After a few Kuchi elders approached him for help educating their children, Karimi worked with the community to design a primary school.
CAI provides the tents and the whiteboards, delivers textbooks and notebooks, pencils and erasers, and pays the teachers. Plus, CAI has given the teachers a motorcycle so they can travel with the Kuchis.
Convincing parents to send their children to school was the next hurdle. Only about 10 percent of the tribe’s children are currently enrolled, Karimi said.
“We know we need more children in school,” said Mullah Malavi Jandad, who is also a teacher. “Many people want to continue the old culture and just send children with the animals (for herding). When I preach on Fridays I always say education is important for all children. I insist and encourage parents to send their children to school and students to work hard.”
The community’s aversion to education is not mean-spirited, said teacher Qari Hamidullah.
“Parents don’t have education so they don’t know value of education,” he said. “This is my job and I will work harder to convince the families to send their children to school.”
For centuries, Kuchis – who are Pashtun and form tribes along patrilineal lines – migrated throughout the region in search of pastures and mild weather for their sheep and camel herds. They used to wander as far east as the Indus River Valley, but that essentially ended when the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was closed in the 1960s.
Other factors, too, have contributed to the demise of the traditional Kuchi camel caravan, according to a Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) 2008 report, “World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous People.” Decades of fighting and the increasing dominance of regional warlords blocked migratory routes. Land mines and severe droughts killed large numbers of Kuchi animals. And private landowners started charging tolls for Kuchi animals crossing their properties.
Ultimately, “the chronic state of instability in Afghanistan has left [the Kuchis] among the poorest groups in the country,” MRGI reported.
In recent years, the Kuchis – there are an estimated 2.4 million in Afghanistan, according to a World Food Program survey – have begun to settle, often at the encouragement of the Afghan government, further reducing the number of Kuchis “who still follow their traditional livelihood of nomadic herding,” MRGI reported.
The tribe CAI works with is semi-nomadic. Families work together to raise mostly sheep and goats, with some milk cows and camels. Animal products (meat, dairy products, wool) are then bartered or sold to buy food and other items.
“Life for Kuchis is difficult, especially for Kuchi women,” MRGI reported. “Male and female roles, as in other segments of traditional Afghan society, are rigidly adhered to, with the men tending to livestock while the women hold the major responsibility for child-rearing, are completely responsible for food and water preparation, and for sewing and weaving of clothes and tents.”
Children help with all those chores, too. As a result, they start school early every morning – sometimes as early as 6 a.m., but usually around 7 a.m. – in order to get their classroom work done and return home to help.
Although some of their parents may be slow to see the benefits of education, the kids are enthusiastic.
“Learning is very good, it makes our lives better,” said Hejrat, a 14-year-old boy in third grade.
Many of the students are older than usual since there was no school before CAI started working here. By the same token, one of the teachers is much younger than usual.
Abdul Wali Intizar is 15 years old and was lucky enough to be allowed to remain in Jalalabad until he finished eighth grade. Once he returned to the community, he was asked to teach “due to lack of teachers and educated people,” he said.
“Most nomad people don’t have education, but other people do, so we need to get education,” Abdul said. “I know the problems I found before I went to school. Before I just took care of the animals. I didn’t know which is good or bad way, how to work with people or have a good life. Now I know these things and that opportunities exist for me. I want to encourage the students and teach them the importance of getting an education.”
Having Abdul as a teacher is not the perfect situation, Karimi said. Teachers should be educated to at least 12th grade, which in Afghanistan is high school plus two years of college. But problems getting highly qualified teachers to commute to the nomads’ rural settlement, the early morning hours, and the seasonal work means getting and keeping teachers here is difficult.
As the MRGI report noted, there’s little outside interest in helping the Kuchis.
“Very little of the foreign assistance extended to Afghanistan by the international community has arrived to aid the Kuchis. Few assistance agencies work in the insecure areas in which they are located, and most donors emphasize short-term economic and humanitarian aid rather than the longer-term assistance the Kuchis need. As a result, most of the Kuchi today remain jobless and illiterate,” the report found.
Education is the only way the Kuchis can adapt to the changing world around them, said one elder, who noted he has as many sheep as he has children, 10 of each.
“Big changes come in nomad people’s lives,” he said reflectively, as he watched the children in their brightly colored clothes stream out of the tents, headed home to their daily chores.
- Karin Ronnow