March 2012 - Sonia Shah Organization

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School Visit

Yesterday I walked over to the the school for which we are trying to build a building, and was able to watch the girls studying and to speak with their teacher. Right now the girls (about 50 of them) study at their teacher’s house, and are scattered in their various class groups along her verandah and courtyard. Only about a quarter of them are actually sitting under fans (that only work when the electricity is working), while the rest have to make do with shade. The girls range from pre-k to grade five, and while the government provides them with textbooks, some of them are too poor to buy the notebooks and pencils they need to study. One teacher, also provided by the government (who is paid a salary of about 60 USD per month) has to oversee the lessons of all 50 girls. The girls are also unable to afford uniforms (one of the indicators used by the general populace to identify better schools in Pakistan).

Students and teacher sit in the heat, and try to push through lessons that run from about 8:30 in the morning to about noon, although officially class is supposed to begin at 7:00 am and end at 1:00 in the afternoon. The curriculum given to them by the government is in Poshto, the tribal language of this north-west region of Pakistan, and the village is in a rural enough place that both Urdu (the national language) and English (the official langauge) are taught as foreign languages, as no one in Kangra actually speaks either of the two often or well. The girls will be on a one month break from June 10th, and we hope to begin building their two-room school building then. The 6,000 USD we have already raised is now here in Pakistan and ready to be spent on building supplies and wages for laborers. If the contractors work quickly the school should be done by the time I come back to Kangra in September. Until the building is ready and we can begin overhauling the curriculum and teaching system, I am doing my best to provide the girls with whatever basic school supplies they currently don’t have, and with the fans and uniforms that will make their education more pleasant and legitimate.

More on my project soon to come, and please feel free to take a look at the pictures that I haven’t included in these blog posts: Most recent pictures from Pakistan

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Women in Pakistan

I just wanted to take the time to talk a little bit about why I feel that 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. Poor mothers need their daughters to help them at home, and poor fathers can rarely afford to even feed and clothe their children properly, and so view a daughter’s tuition fees as an unnecessary expenditure. These uneducated girls are then made dependent on their male relatives, perpetuating a cycle of destitution in a country in which 24% of its 170 million people live below the poverty line. Educating a girl can aid in the development and improvement of her entire family and even her entire community, and will stabilize a nation rocked by ignorance and hardship. It is now becoming even more important to continue to fund and support girls’ schools, as the Taliban has destroyed over 400 schools in the Swat Valley and tribal regions, and have targeted girls’ schools in particular. With tens of thousands of children left without a school and a government unable to rebuild schools quickly, I believe that it is essential to reach out to and educate as many girls as we can.

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Challenges

Our challenges with land did not end when we found isviagraotc.com a second possible location a month ago. The lands could not be transferred to the foundation, and we therefore couldn’t guarantee that the land and building would continue to be used as a school. The only thing we could do was to buy land that we could ensure would remain in the control of the foundation. After trying and failing to purchase two different plots, my mom was finally able to successfully buy a third plot with money taken from her own retirement fund. Land ownership and control is an incredibly sensitive issue in the rural areas of northwest Pakistan, and owning the land on which the school will be built will ensure that the school can be sustained. We have had to draw up new estimates and building plans for this new plot, and the added costs of these have put a strain on our existing funds. Any support you are willing to give would be very much appreciated, as we would like to begin construction as soon as possible and have the school ready to be opened for the next academic school year. Please donate on our website at http://www.kulsoomfoundation.org/.

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