This past year has highlighted the desperate need for girls education in Pakistan. Much has been written about the incredibly brave, erudite and visionary student activist Malala Yousafzai, since that horrific day in October 2012 when she was attacked for her beliefs in universal education for women. See latest on Malala in the following MSNBC clip . But no amount of bullets, weapons or threats can halt a movement whose time has come. Education for women in Pakistan is not just a wish or abstract idea, it is a fundamental right, it is a social imperative, it is an absolute must.
Gordon Brown, former prime minister of United Kingdom and now United Nations Special Envoy for Education, made an impassioned plea to the international community to make education a higher priority. Indeed, at the beginning of this century, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals included the laudable target of ensuring primary school education for all children by 2015. As that deadline approaches, we learn that there is a £13 billion funding gap to achieve that goal. Furthermore, it turns out that two-thirds of the children in need of that funding live in just ten countries. Prominent amongst those countries is Pakistan. The very place where Malala’s campaign began. So what can be done? We cannot leave the situation as a status quo. Realistically, we also cannot raise that almost insurmountable figure in one go as a community. What we can do is to pool resources. Join a campaign. Be a part of a vision.
In Chicago, that vision has already been created and its wheels have already been set in motion by another brave girl with close ties to Pakistan. Sonia Shah, a very special teenager living with her family in Chicago felt a strong calling to give back to the girls of Pakistan.
Writing during her high school days, she recognized that “nations must be held responsible for the education of their people.” But she also understood that as individuals we can also do our part and not just leave this all-important task to the caprices of “nations” and “governments” and “NGOs”. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves and decided that she would do her part by “starting a girl’s elementary school in … the same village that my grandmother left so many years ago.” With that state goal in mind she set out a full plan on how to achieve some measure of the Millennium Development Goals.
Sonia was an exceptional girl. She completed her education a year early and dedicated a gap year to establishing Sonia Shah Foundation. With this Foundation she planned to provide education to the girls of her grandmother’s village. Speaking 5 languages herself, she planned a bilingual school for girls with a curriculum that would be taught in Urdu and in English. She procured the land , gathered the necessary donations, established the curriculum, began the search for the teachers and oversaw the groundbreaking of the building. And then just as her dreams for the school were about to take flight, her young life was cut short.
Given that there are presently at least 5 million children of both sexes that are in need of education in Pakistan, begs the question, why only a girls school. Gender inequality in education is extreme, even in the western society, girls are less likely to have access to school, remain in school or progress to higher education. It is only through education that women can achieve their economic, political and social potential. As such, education of young girls is an imperative and intrinsic part of any program designed to redress gender-based discrimination against women and girls. It is critical to achieve a basic level of education for girls, because providing this basic right to girls ensures that those girls are later able to secure other rights to which they are entitled. The improved educational opportunities for girls, leads to a better understanding of health, nutrition and family planning as well as alleviating poverty.
While she is no longer with us, Sonia left behind Sonia Shah Foundation, the Foundation that she started to achieve her goals of education and enlightenment for the girls from her grandmother’s village. She committed to the hands of that Foundation the dreams and hopes that she had for the school and for the girls in Pakistan. Beyond providing mere literacy, it was Sonia’s aim to provide the girls with the basic tools they would need to be fully vested and functioning members of a free and enlightened society. As the world settles into the 21st century, it will be through the efforts of Foundations such as the Sonia Shah Foundation that the Millennium Development Goals will be realized.
Sonia Shah Foundation is partnering with The Human Development Foundation (HDF) to implement the project: HDF-Sonia Shah Memorial School in village Kangra, Pakistan. Sonia Shah Foundation and HDF are entities with shared interests concerned with helping disadvantaged people and communities in Pakistan. HDF, combats extreme poverty by “Helping people help themselves.” Their powerful, Holistic Model is comprehensive and is focused on lasting change in 5 key areas – Education, Health Care, Economic Growth, Social Mobilization and Sustainable Environment. HDF development goals are fully aligned with MDGs and HDF continues to work towards its goal of ensuring that by 2015 boys and girls in HDF program areas have the opportunity to complete primary schooling while eliminating gender disparity in the school system.