Archive for ::Education

Let the people speak today…

[Updated note to this post: Amid the jubilence, it seems suicide attackers have struck again in Rawalpindi, killing at least 10 and injuring over 20.  Let Pakistanis not loose the momentum to demand en masse, their right to be safeguarded against this grave threat which looms, to demand that the powers that be, stop pandering to the religious extremists and begin to take strong action with urgency to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and its people.  I hope we are not left waiting in vain (or worse) for the people, the masses, the ruling educated elite to speak up and march (now!) against the terror and atrocities being committed by Muslims upon Muslims as the country celebrates the dawn of this new day… ]

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A historic, emotional and proud day in the history of Pakistan- March 16, 2009.

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Hundreds of thousands marched the “Long March” towards the capital to demand the restoration of Paksitan’s legitimate Judiciary – for two years the lawyers movement forged tirelessly, beaten down on, but they have prevailed.  Never in the history of Pakistan, have PCO Judges been reinstated.  Never did the masses feel their voice and presence would matter.   Technology, media and the will to fight for a country mired in political dysfunction have given birth to a new hope and a voice to the people.

Skeptics who felt powerless in the face of the corrupt and ruling elite, feel they may have a chance after this historic day.  The task now is for more long marches to come – to demand the rulers to stop pandering to the Islamic extremists and protect them from this abhorrent homegrown violence; to demand justice for equal access to education, health, civil services, employment and the bare necessities of life needed to sustain the poorest of the poor, as well as the vast,  middle class – many of whom comprised the lawyers movement from the start.  The long march has only just begun.

I think it is best for those voices to speak for themselves.  The following are quotes from today’s (March 16, 2009) NYT’s article on this historic event:

Javed Ali Khan: “We’re watching history,” said Javed Ali Khan, a 45-year-old who had traveled for days with his wife and six children to participate in a national march of lawyers and opposition political parties.

…….

Hassan Akhtar, a lawyer who grew up in England, gushed: “It’s really wonderful. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t even dream of this.”

…….

“Justice,” said Mr. Khan’s wife, Rubina Javed, smiling broadly. “We came for justice.” “Justice is the solution to the common man’s problems,” Ms. Javed said, seated on a blue scarf on the grass with two daughters and four sons, ages 6 to 18, around her. “I want justice in schools, on roads, in transportation. Now the common man is speaking.”

Ms. Javed’s daughters both wore stickers of Mr. Chaudhry stuck to the fronts of their brightly colored dresses, with the words, “My Hero,” in English, in bold script. The family earns about $250 a month, too little to send the children to private school. Most Pakistanis consider their country’s public school system to be broken.

…….

“The ruling elite can get away with anything,” said Muhammad Ali, a software engineer. “They are like kings here.”

…….

“This movement has given an awareness to the common people in Pakistan of their rights,” said Shamoon Azhar, 26, a doctoral student at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, sitting on the lawn with a large group of his friends. “This is about awareness. It’s given people confidence. It’s shown people it can happen.”

…….

“The feudal system, it was in the past,” said Mazhar Iqbal, a private school manager. “There was no media then. No education. The poor were poor forever. Now is the time to wake up. It’s been 60 years and we’ve been wasting our time.”

…….

Saif Abbas, a consultant who used to work for the Asian Development Bank in Islamabad, was more clear-eyed about the meaning of the march. Pakistan is still a poor country with a vast illiterate population, and a corrupt, unresponsive ruling class, he said.

“This country has to take control of its own future, and that’s education,” he said, holding a flag. “Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.”  He continued:  “The next government is going to fear the people who pushed this one against the wall,” […] A revolution it is not, he said. “But it’s a good beginning.”

…….

Indeed it finally is.

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Starting from behind zero. Is there a reset button?

We may need a quick fix to rid Pakistan of the rise of the new brand of Talibanization, but perhaps we will have to step back much further and start from scratch, in the hopes of attempting to rebuild a breaking  nation.  Many say it is too late, but we cannot know if we do not try.

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EDUCATION.           As obvious as it may seem, but seemingly never hailed as a priority in many underdeveloped countries – including Pakistan.  Countries at war, in economic turmoil and on the cusp of religious implosion do not see investment in any human capital as necessary or a priority.  Perhaps the fear is that too much knowledge and awareness can backfire?

Everyone knows about the multiplier effect of educating a child, a girl and how in turn that child goes on to bring pride, knowledge, vocation and income to the family and its greater community.  It being International Women’s Day today and having just viewed the live broadcast of the documentary (“A Powerful Noise”) shown across 450 US movie theatres this week in its honor, I was reminded about how important the investment in people was.  but this was certainly not the first time I realized this…Having grown up with a father whose main mission was to promote education and health of women and children (he devoted his entire adult career at UNICEF in many parts of Asia for over 35years), and having seen the immediate benefits of those efforts, this led me in my studies to pursue the root causes of underdevelopment in emerging countries.  My senior thesis in college simply argued that NGOs and grassroots educational programs which were either initiated by local non-governmental organizations or local populations themselves, would be the most effective way out of poverty and access to income generation, national economic growth and eventually a decline in social strife and civil unrest alike.   Change from within, is when true change can occur.  People have to want to help themselves – and many populations do.  But that is only half the battle.  Lack of adequate fiscal investment in infrastructure and education programs by the government in Pakistan, have essentially destroyed the chances of attaining access to education for children, and has resulted in one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.

I am constantly reminded of how important it is for countries, especially emerging countries, to enable access to schooling at the most basic level: Universal Primary Education.  Many wonderful NGOs – not the government – in Pakistan champion this cause, including DIL (Developments in Literacy), TCF (The Citizens Foundation), AKRSP (Agha Khan Rural Support Programs), Behbud Association, among several others.  But naturally, these organizations cannot meet the immense need to fill the deep canyons.  The void left by the failure of lack of government spending on human capital investment, has been rapidly filled by the extremist elements and their brand of ‘madrassas’ or schools which teach in this case, Islamic studies and the Qur’an.  As Mr. Dalrymple aptly states in his March 8, 2009 piece in the UK Guardian, “Wahhabi fundamentalism has advanced so quickly in Pakistan partly because the Saudis have financed the building of so many madrasas, which have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education.”  He continues in his article to get at the essence of why this nation has gone so far astray: “The Pakistani government could finance schools that taught Pakistanis to respect their own religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and handing over education to the Saudis.”

It is clear to us, that State education has no sense of urgency to improve or allow the greater population of Pakistanis access to at minimum, universal primary education.  The small droplets provided by international and local NGOs cannot meet the vast and ever growing demand and needs of the people –  We are keenly aware at the same time, that their needs go beyond educational access, but are basic human needs like food, shelter and medicine. According to UNESCO, the current literacy rate in Pakistan is about 49%. Statistics from over 10 years ago show the following trends in literacy according to UNESCO : “In 1951, there were nearly 22 million who couldn’t read in Pakistan, while the 1998 census results showed that the illiterate population has risen to 48 million.”  Today’s population is estimated to be about 172 million – about 50% of them are illiterate.  Do the math and therein lies the problem.

Without the commitment and investment in universal primary education, girls education, adult literacy, and income generating adult vocational training, there is little hope for Pakistan.  While this is the very long and tedious path, it could end up being the most long lasting solution.  We need a reset button and this could be it.

Then again, I confess that I am uncertain if Pakistan has any time left to even begin to contemplate, let alone implement this philosophy, given how fast the time bomb is ticking…but try, we must, as the will of the people will be required to overcome so many of these hurdles facing Pakistan.

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To Play, or not Play?

At first glace of the article’s title in this week’s New York Times Magazine (Taking Play Seriously), and a quick read through of the first page, I really became excited about the prospect of some real scientific ‘findings’ and hard fact research about the high correlation between childhood play and developmental success as a direct result. Though the (long) article does to some extent conclude how important imaginative and creative play is for a child’s cognitive, behavioral, social and physical development, some sources of research for this piece argue differently – Read for yourself and you’ll find some interesting observations made by a variety of scientists on this subject.

As a parent living in this 21st century, knowingly wary that the overscheduling of ‘enrichment’ activities we convince ourselves (and by extension, our peers) is good for our children – I stop myself each time it’s ‘sign-up’ season and wonder if  I really AM doing the right thing for my children.  I want them to avail of the myriad of classes and opportunities to develop their skills and interests with all that is around us in the metro-regions and affluent towns our overacheiving families live in.  Piano will help her with her mathematics.  Art allows for his creative side to emerge (and help with handwriting skills!).  Softball is great for instilling teambuilding skills.  Yes, of course all this is wonderful. I boastfully tell my friends sometimes that this time I’m cutting back on ‘x’ or ‘y’ activity – and luckily, I have to admit, I have rolled back – a bit.  I mean, what are you supposed to do when your kid says, “Mama, I’m tired of all these activities – I just want to play”.  So we cut back- a bit – and now we try to make more time for impromptu playdates with friends from school and the neighborhood.  I think it has made them happier?  But even arranging and scheduling these playtimes is a chore in itself!  We have to book out 1, 2 or even 3 weeks sometimes, to find a time to play with a friend.  So, while they wait for their scheduled playdates (kids just don’t really go out into the streets and play with the kid across the street anymore – too many child predators, speeding teens in cars, or worse out there – so we are inhibiting our kids further, from being truly in ‘free play’) what do we do?  Encourage them to play by themselves or with siblings – kids find doing things independently almost too difficult these days too…why? We did?  Perhaps again, because we’ve structured their activity time too much and they cannot play endlessly on their own as they await direction from their adults on how to proceed with play and activities?  Many kids then fall into the TV trap – while many of us responsible parents limit TV watching strictly, (some parents admit unwillingly that their kids do watch a bit too much TV….) it still ends up being a ‘filler’ for down time, post school stress de-tox or as a treat after completing homework.  So, where does that leave us?  Just read the article – it’s as detailed and comprehensive as you’d want to get!

 

From the New York Times Magazine – February 17, 2008)

Why Do We Play: Taking Play Seriously

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A Past No More?

Yes, it has been a while since I posted an entry, again.  

Having recently returned from a trip to Pakistan to visit family after three years, I suppose I feel the urge to document it.  The political, social and economic scene changes every time I visit – and this time more than it ever has in my lifetime, at least.  One does not have to look far – local dailies, international news media, web logs – all include fresh daily news items tainted with ‘Pakistan’ in their headlines.  It is needless to say that the nation is under seige, from both internal and external powers that be.  Hope is distant and intangible for the time being.

The family trip to Pakistan included visits to grandparents in both Islamabad, the capital city, and to the historic city of Lahore.  I was pleasantly surprized that my young children found some excitment and interest in the places we took them to (other than requisite family ‘meet and greets’ over tea and dinner events). 

In Islamabad, they enthusiastically enjoyed visiting Faisal Masjid with their grandmother (Shah Faisal Mosque – world’s largest mosque, which also houses the world’s largest cantelever roof), running in their socks on the grand marbled floor expanse around the main prayer hall.  They were ‘wow’ed by the largess of the structure and took time to take in the serenity of the interior prayer hall – (well, in all honesty, that lasted only a few minutes before the little one decided he wanted to run into the center of the carpeted prayer area!).  They also visited newly renovated “Lok Virsa”, a premier museum of ethnology and cultural heritage which chronicles the history of the various eras of the Indus Valley civilizations, and Badshahi Masjid, Lahoremodern day Pakistani ethnic geography.  While the children were still a bit young to fully appreciate the value of such a museum, they did enjoy the life-size dioramas of village scenes from the Punjab, Northern Karakorum Mountains as well as relics from the ancient civilizations of Harrapa and Mohenjodaro. 

Lahore of course had it’s own ‘living’ history – not that which is bottled up in showcase glasses in a museum.  They enjoyed a memorable trip with their cousin to the older side of Lahore by the walled city and Lahore Fort. The sheer awe they displayed upon entering the Badshahi Masjid is evoked in the attached photograph above.  Again, the tremendous expanse and majesty of the monument was enough to inspire reckless abandon as witnessed through a child.  We moved next to the Lahore Fort (Shahi Qila), citadel of the city of Lahore.  It’s actual ‘build date’ is not very clear (sometime before 1025 A.D. sources say), but the hands of many Mughal rulers have touched it, including Auranzeb, Shah Jahan (of Sheesh Mahal and Diwan-e-Khas fame here) and Jehangir and Akbar as well – during the greater part of the 1600s.  The children most enjoyed the Diwan-e-Aam Jharoka (or Royal Balcony) – where my husband told them that the emperors used to hold court and speak to the people from the elevated marble pulpit.  Each one of them re-enacted the role of the emperor, pretending to make some pivotal proclamation!  The best part (for me at least) was when I saw the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) under repair with scaffolding and tall gates barricading entry to the visitors.  A sign near it read, “Under Renovation and Restoration, managed and funded in collaboration with UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee”.   Does this mean there is some hope that my children may someday be able to share with their children, a piece of this history from my birth country’s heritage? 

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In a country where there is an absence of Rule of Law, where lawlessness and unchecked violence is rampant, where the poor person earning barely $16/month cannot afford a kilo of wheat if available, where electricity is shut off daily, (execpt in the VIP sectors) for hours on end, and where the rich get richer, driving their BMWs and Benzs, is there any reason why national heritage preservation will be considered a priority?  There are much more pressing issues facing the country at this juncture in time, as its future hangs tenuously.  Sadly, it is only in my dreams for now, that I may envision the survival of Pakistan’s historical heritage and national treasures.  

The article below details similar thoughts on the sad state of preservation of such glorious treasures. 

(Story Source:  The Guardian, January 11, 2008)

Here in the city of Kim, Pakistan’s magnificent history is being left to rot

Musharraf has allowed one of the wonders of Asia to disintegrate; and a country that neglects its past endangers its future

Simon Jenkins in Lahore
Friday January 11, 2008
The Guardian

Poor Lahore. Yesterday this jewelled city of the Raj was hit by a suicide bomber aimed at lawyers protesting at President Pervez Musharraf’s imprisonment of his top judiciary. As body parts scattered the tree-lined Mall, Kipling’s “city of dreadful night” became the city of dreadful day. Nor could the outrage have happened in a more symbolic spot. Just up the road from the bombed Victorian high court stands “Kim’s gun”, the great 18th-century Zam-Zammah cannon, pointing towards the scene.
While the historic cities of Pakistan’s great rival, India, soar up the league table of celebrity, nothing better displays Pakistan’s current misery than the state of Lahore, joint capital of many an Indian empire and of British Punjab. Splendid Victorian palaces still line the boulevards of the Mall: the high court, the governor’s house, the general post office, the government college and Lahore’s museum, Kim’s “Wonder House”. Even the art college built by Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, survives, with students squatting under giant fans in its corbelled hall.
The style of these and other buildings is the “Anglo-Saracenic” (or Mughal-Gothic) with which the engineer/architects of the Raj paid their respects to a local culture over which they intended to rule for ever. Bursting with imperial confidence, the buildings are the glory of Punjab and the most remarkable group of 19th-century public buildings anywhere, complementing Lutyens’s Edwardian Rajpath at the eastern end of the Grand Trunk Road in what today is India.
A mile away across this now sprawling 8 million-strong metropolis heaves and sweats Lahore’s walled city, old and unchanged. Here, on a wet January night, one can easily imagine the fleet young Kim darting through the mud and huddles of humanity, over the rooftops on some mystery “woman’s errand”. At its heart lies Lahore fort, its gates, gardens, mosques and decorative finishes the finest Mughal monument after the Taj Mahal. Crowded outside its walls are scruffy courtyard houses (havelis), markets, food stalls, brothels and alleys of unimaginable dirt and decrepitude. Buried within are shrines, mosques and derelict palaces. Only a few structures have been restored by enthusiasts, such as the exotic Cuckoo’s Den restaurant by the fort.
In no other world city have I seen so much magnificence so neglected. Pakistan’s ancient sites, those of the Indus civilisation and Taxila and Moenjodaro, are well guarded. Limited preservation is being done on Lahore fort and Shah Jahan’s exquisite Shalimar Garden in the suburbs. But saving Lahore itself has become a desperate struggle conducted by a few lone warriors, such as the Karachi architect Yasmin Lari, and Lahore’s Kamil Mumtaz.
Yesterday’s blast at the high court followed persistent attempts by the government to demolish the building, despite its handsome moulded brick walls and terracotta, marble and teak inside. The authorities also tried to demolish old Tollington market on the Mall. Looking like an East Anglian railway station, it was saved by public outcry and is now a thriving art centre.
Such carelessness is not for want of help. The World Bank offered $10m to restore the old city, which the authorities used to pay for drains. A so-called Sustainable Development Walled City project has hired offices and bureaucrats, but seems to have lost the will to conserve anything. Nobody is trying to stop a hotel company from buying up a street of havelis and demolishing them – houses that in Marrakech would be worth millions and might one day be so in Lahore. There is no protection for these structures, and if there were a well-placed bribe would negate it.
Even a modest project initiated by Lari to restore the royal route through the walled city from the Delhi Gate to the fort has ground to a halt, from a mix of corruption and inertia. The gate itself was demolished by the British in the 19th century but rebuilt, probably at Curzon’s instigation, in the 20th. Through the murk of the royal route can be seen Mughal arches, lattice-work panels and classical porticos. All Pakistan’s history is here, but disintegrating beneath encroaching shanties, cobwebs of wires and piles of rubbish. Meanwhile the dictatorship is spending $1bn on a new army headquarters in Islamabad.
Islamabad, five hours north of Lahore, offers a glaring contrast. This is Pakistan’s own Chandigarh, Canberra or Brasilia, a new city built from scratch in the 1960s and with all the mind-numbing tedium that only 20th-century planning could inflict on humanity. Everything there before – natural or manmade – was simply bulldozed. A grid was imposed on the wide Potohar plateau. Each square was given a letter and number and allocated to commercial, retail or residential use, Soviet-style.
Embarrassed at the resulting soullessness, the city authorities are now seeking to recapture some of the character they destroyed, as are the planners of Britain’s not dissimilar Milton Keynes. Anything surviving from the past, a village, a historic landmark, even a tree, is seized on to lend character to a settlement that lacks any sense of place.
The result has been the virtual demolition and rebuilding of a 16th-century village, Saidpur, on a hillside overlooking the city. A Hindu shrine has been stripped bare and made into a museum. “Illegal residents” have been cleared and their belongings dumped on the road, to make way for an ersatz tourism village of restaurants and boutiques: anything to suggest that Islamabad has a history. Elsewhere on the city outskirts, an old British station has been restored as a museum. At the pleading of a local artist, Fauzia Minallah, surviving banyans have been left standing, in one case in the middle of a motorway. These magnificent trees, she points out, constitute the nearest Islamabad has to “a national heritage”.
Pakistan used to pride itself on its cities being cleaner and more modern than India’s. This is no longer so. While Islamabad seeks to create a past for itself, Lahore’s past is collapsing around it. Hovering over its ancient walls is a sense of utter neglect, so much so that some 400 buildings have been scheduled for demolition as dangerous.
The reason is rule by distant dictator. Some dictators take pride in their past, eager to make their mark on the nation’s narrative. This was true of the Shah of Persia and even of Saddam Hussein. It is sad that present-day Pakistan, once a prized province of India’s Mauryan, Mughal and British empires, should not only have cut itself off from that narrative but find itself at the mercy of an insecure and philistine soldier, for 10 years the puppet of London and Washington.
Though eager to be admired abroad, Musharraf has allowed one of the great cities of Asia to decline into squalor. For centuries the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi through Punjab carried the history of the subcontinent streaming beneath the walls of Lahore. But while India is at least fighting to rescue what remains of its past, Lahore is left to languish.

From the Indus to the Himalayas, Pakistan should be the object of every traveller’s desire. Today it is awash with pessimists ready to declare its 60-year-old creation doomed and its further Balkanisation, begun with Bangladesh in 1972, inevitable. I am not sure, but any country that neglects its past loses touch with its present and endangers its future. In Pakistan the bulldozer is doing as much to hasten that danger as any suicide bomber.

simon.jenkins@guardian.co.uk

A few more personal snaps on the go…will these treasures (Tollington Market and Kim’s Gun)  still be standing in the years to come?

   Zam Zamaah

  

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Three Cups of Tea in Baltistan.

I had read Three Cups of Tea (by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin) a while ago and thought I must post an entry on this remarkable man and his promise to a people in a country far from his own.  I was happy to see that ATP (All Things Pakistan) just posted a book review on their blog as a Guest Post from Babar Bhatti.  You can read it here

Here are some thoughts of mine on this inspirational story…

A truly inspiring read, as is Mr. Mortenson. I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of his readings last March when his book came out. His manner of speaking and recounting his time spent in Pakistan evoked the true and deep bond he had developed with the people there. He returned several times to the Balti region and continued to build (to date I believe almost 60 schools have been built in Pakistan & Afghanistan through his Central Asia Institute). And he returned once again to help rebuild schools after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake shattered the uncountable schools lost that day. Imagine.

His unimaginable survival against so many natural odds and then his commitment to keeping his ‘promise’ to the people who saved him,and that he returned with hope and passion to build schools is remarkable. For me personally, I felt I got a window into a world which I probably would never get to know on such a personalized and detailed level as narrated by Mortenson, even through his American eyes.

One source of his inspiration I found truly moving…was when he had his ephiphany about being able to raise money to fulfil his promise to build schools in Baltistan. The students at his mother’s elementary school had spontaneously launched a “Pennies for Pakistan” drive, upon learning about other children far away in Pakistan, who sat outside in the cold weather without teachers to come to learn/school. The elementary school children couldn’t believe such a place could exist in the world…They collected two 40 gallon trash cans – 62,345 pennies:$623.45! In Mortenson’s words: “Children had taken the first step toward building the school. And they did it with something that’s basically worthless in our society- pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains.”

This led to the development of the Pennies for Peace program by his institute:  Pennies for Peace 

I urge anyone with children living in the US or outside Pakistan to take your children on a virtual visit. There are so many ways to spread positive values and impressions to so many who think otherwise, and what better way than to have our children pave the way for their generation to better understand each other and people around the world, AND to instill in them, civic values by helping those less fortunate…one penny at a time.

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