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RAWA Schools in Pakistan,notes and recommendations: Jan 2002
This is based on a visit to the three schools described in Rawalpindi which we supported until early 2003 We have kept these reports on the site because they offer relevant information on the situation.

Some of these schools have now shut because their staff and students have returned to Afghanistan. Because of lack of funding, we can no longer afford to support schools as we used to. Any donation marked specifically for teachers will henceforth be given either to the girls' school in Khewa refugee camp or to RAWA schools within Afghanistan

Background

School is not obligatory in Pakistan and besides it is not free. Afghans (and other foreigners) have to pay around 200 rs per month (60rs= $1) and as most families have at least 5 children this means that few can afford such expenditure. At any rate, boys will be given the priority as they are deemed the breadwinners.
The literacy rate in Pakistan is, as a result, very low (25% of the population can read) - but in Taliban Afghanistan it became one of the lowest in the world, down to 5% for the women according to some statistics.

RAWA has always made education a priority in underground schools for women and girls in Taliban Afghanistan as well as in the poorest areas of Pakistan where Afghan refugees live.

Apart from literacy classes, RAWA runs three schools in the slums of Rawalpindi and three more in Haripoor, Peshawar and a refugee camp in the Peshawar region. These are unregistered as are many private schools in Pakistan.

These are unusual institutions in that they provide
- 4 hours of free schooling for girls and boys
- a mainly Afghan curriculum to prepare for a return to Afghanistan
- Urdu and English as foreign languages
- One class in religious studies ( as opposed to five in fundamentalist run schools of which there are many catering to the refugee population)
- some notions of human rights, especially women’s rights
- books, stationery

The schooling provided is very basic and can only equip pupils with the most basic skills- but it is a real alternative to illiteracy and perceived as a privilege. Nevertheless, such a programme is perceived as totally radical and these schools operate with the utmost discretion. There are RAWA posters in the classrooms and gradually discussion take place.
This report is based on a visit to the three schools in Rawalpindi as well as the school run by RAWA in Jalozai II camp (which is NOT the notorious Jalozai camp an hour away and has been described in another report on the www.femaid site).

Student background

The background of the refugees is varied, from an educated professional middle-class to peasants and one-time civil servants. Whatever economies the families possessed have run out fast as life is more expensive in Pakistan than Afghanistan. Poverty is the great leveller, and as a result children of once (relatively) privileged backgrounds – generally one-parent families where the men have been killed- find themselves picking rags alongside children who have been brought up to think this normal.

These refugees have fled Soviet (1979) invasion, fundamentalists of every shape (including Talibans), oppression and poverty. Opposition to fundamentalism does not necessarily entail liberal attitudes in this part of the world, except in more educated and progressive backgrounds.
However bad the situation in Pakistan, whatever these people have fled is even worse than what they are experiencing now.And some places are even more terrible than these slums, mainly hell-hole refugee camps like Jalozai . Which is why a growing number of single-parent families try to put their children in orphanages where they know their children will at least eat once a day and may not be obliged to labour.

Schooling may represent different things. To the more educated parents, this may be the beginning of a career, possibly the way to a scholarship into a Pakistani school. It keeps the dream going and family self-respect. Here girls are a little more encouraged than boys.But poverty and pragmatism rapidly overcome their hopes and resources, as no-one can afford the unbelievable fees the Pakistani high schools and universities charge.
To the majority of poor and impoverished people, school may mean a better job for their boys- from sifting through garbage, they may be able to go on working indoors in a shop, counting stock.
Nevertheless, when you ask children : What do you want to do later, they invariable chant ”doctor”, sometimes ‘engineer’ and ‘teacher’ for girls – in some kind of ideal and never-never land Afghanistan.All of which are impossible in view of the education they are getting, the necessity to bring in money as soon as possible and mainly the fact that they are excluded from any inroad to changing their abject living- conditions.
So, in the meantime boys, from the age of 7 work as rag-pickers, collecting paper from garbage (one kg is paid one rupee), make wire-wool wads for scouring (25 dozen= 1.5 rs per dozen, sold locally 8 rs apiece), make shoes, sell vegetables, carry heavy loads in bazaar, weave carpets. Some work with their fathers, others are farmed out to employers. Girls are expected to help as home, but some work as domestic servants, stitch, embroider. If there are no boys in the family, girls are sometimes disguised as boys, their names changes (I met a Khaleda with shorn hair who had been selling vegetables as Khaled) in order to work.They work on average 8 hours a day and eat one main meal (mainly lentils, bread, tea- meat, fresh fruits are exorbitant luxuries).As a result, children look about three to four years younger than their same-age Western counterparts. I visited during the month of fasting Ramazan: most children, even the youngest, were proud to be fasting- admittedly on their diet, this could not have been very difficult for them which made the situation even more heart-breaking.

It must never be forgotten that this is a most conservative society. Despite RAWA (and so-called Internet cafés in some parts of town), most of these girls will be married off in their teens to boys they hardly know and they will submit to their fate because that’s how they have been brought up, burqa or no burqa for centuries. RAWA has to negotiate with fathers and then husbands for these girls to be allowed to come to literacy classes and sometimes food bribes are necessary. Widows may sometimes be more amenable as far as their daughters’ future is concerned. The situation is very hard to imagine in the West but cannot be minimized.

In view of the crushing poverty, families just cannot afford to keep their children away from work.What is a moral question for us is merely one of survival in this part of the world.The problem needs to be tackled from a much broader economic angle, not by further victimising those who are already victims. In fact, the bottom line is that childhood as we know it does not exist for the poor. As soon as an infant can walk, he becomes a diminutive adult who is prepared for the hardships of adult life: scrounging about for survival for boys/men and producing children (future labour force) for girls as soon as their bodies permit them to. Whereas the rural background allowed for some degree of autonomy as far as housing and resources go, in city slums families are crammed into tiny rooms alongside streets with open sewers, no running water (but Internet access in some parts), lead a hand to mouth existence. In the city as well, notions of dignity, identity are completely crushed but mothers hang on to scraps of respectability. All the boys I met wore impeccable white shirts to class:their mothers and sisters wash them painstakingly every day… School indeed represents four hours of solace for these children.

Teachers have variable qualifications, but certainly less than their Pakistani counterparts, simply because they themselves have been deprived of education. Many of them have gone through RAWA schools and are passing on their skills to the younger generations. The more privileged ones have benefited from the Pakistani schools where English is taught as a main language. Many young girls dream of going to a Pakistani university- but higher education would cost 5000rs ($83) a month + 100 000 rs ($1 666) inscription fee.
RAWA keeps an eye on the level of the students. Whenever possible, the brightest students are given further education as they sponsor their studies in Pakistani high schools.