Central Asia Institute has many projects that support its mission to promote education and literacy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The process undertaken to build new schools or improve existing structures requires an invitation from the local community and many months, or sometimes years, of preplanning with village elders, tribal chiefs, military commanders, Islamic clerics, and government officials influential in the area. Each project involves local people in all phases: initiation, implementation, and evaluation. A committee of elders and experts guide these phases to completion, arranging for the community to match CAI project funds (for skilled labor and materials) with local resources (wood, land and sand, and the like) and sweat equity (free or subsidized labor). Such commitment ensures the project’s viability and long-term success. Once the school has been completed, furnished, and stocked with supplies, CAI remains connected to the people, providing financial and education support until the village can sustain the school’s costs on its own.
Central Asia Institute awards primary, secondary, and advanced-education scholarships. When students graduate from their village primary schools, in some instances, they are left with no further structured education. Students who are interested in advancing their studies in a larger town, but are financially incapable of doing so, can apply through the local CAI project manager for a scholarship. Scholarships include room, board, tuition, school supplies, textbooks, uniforms, and paid travel to and from school. The advanced-education scholarships support many areas of training, including teacher, healthcare, animal husbandry, law, communications, and others.
One of the most important steps to establishing education in a remote village is community participation and a dedicated local teacher. In the Northern regions of Pakistan, there is little government or outside support for teachers in the regions CAI serves. The few teachers who taught prior to 1993 were mostly volunteers. CAI has been able to make a profound difference simply by providing funding for stable salaries. Due to the significant problem of few highly qualified teachers in the region, CAI selects a local educated person – even if their education is limited. CAI helps provide funds for teacher training for these individuals on an as-needed basis. Although local and federal governments physically own completed projects, CAI still provides financial support in man cases. Funding the hiring of a local teacher ensures community involvement and investment in their children’s education, and the teacher also has his/her own community ties and personal reasons to stay in the area.
In conjunction with education projects, CAI provides funding for resources that are devoted to critical needs, including public health and environmental sustainability. We do this through clean water projects, healthcare programs, and disaster relief.
In developing countries, one of the main causes of death in children under 5 years of age is the basic lack of clean water. The children that do survive the ill effects of waterborne diseases often suffer from stunted growth and development. CAI provides funding for clean drinking water and sanitation projects that result in profound benefits for communities, families, and children.
CAI provides funding for healthcare training, supplies, and support for women through infirmaries, dispensaries, and occasional healthcare clinics.
Although it is not a priority, CAI has provided educational support after disasters hit parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s October 2005 devastating earthquake and the August 2010 floods and landslides left thousands of people without food, shelter, and schools. The Government of Pakistan, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations provide immediate needs such as water and sanitation, nutrition, child protection and education to assist with the disaster relief, and then CAI will provide financial and significant support to set up tent schools, rebuild schools, and provide education opportunities to the communities affected.
Women’s Vocational Centers & Literacy Centers
Empowering women in remote villages is an important aspect of CAI’s work. Over the years, CAI has provided funds to establish numerous women’s vocational centers that provide skills training, equipment, and materials. Women can be independently earning income from the sale of handicrafts and clothing to help support their families, which stimulates the local economy and empowers women in a society where their opportunities are limited. CAI has also found that, in addition to building basic skills and literacy, the centers become important places for women to come together in their communities, share concerns, and solve problems.
CAI has also provided funds to set up and support literacy centers that offer free daily lessons in basic literacy, hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition. Often a “center” is located in women’s private homes in Afghanistan, where women can gather and learn to read and write. CAI pays the teacher and provides the funds for textbooks, notebooks, pencils, and erasers.
Central Asia Institute’s Global Outreach Program was established to promote awareness of the importance of primary education, literacy, and cross-cultural understanding. CAI reaches communities worldwide via its websites, public events, publications, the Pennies for Peace program, and the books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.
Pennies for Peace is an international service-learning program designed to help students broaden their cultural horizons and learn about their capacities as philanthropists. It educates students about the world beyond their experience and shows them that they can make a positive impact on a global scale, one penny at a time. Students learn the rewards of sharing and working together to bring hope and education opportunities to the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While a penny is virtually worthless in the United States, in impoverished countries a penny buys a pencil and opens the door to literacy. Literacy, for both boys and girls, provides better economic opportunities in the future and neutralizes the power of despot mullahs and other extremist leaders.