Panos London would like to introduce Maimoona Shahzadi as the newest contributor to our Voices from the Ground blog. Maimoona, 28, is a teacher at a co-educational secondary school in a village around 40km outside Islamabad in Pakistan.
She will describe day to day life at Fazilia High School in Garhi Afghana, sharing with us her account of her successes and frustrations inside and outside the classroom.
As Maimoona cannot write in English, her experiences will be recounted, in her own words, by Pakistani journalist Rina Saeed Khan.
Rina, who will meet up with Maimoona once a week to hear what she has been doing, said she wanted to interview her because Fazilia High School provides an alternative to a religious madrassa education.
“Maimoona is teaching in a school that is providing a good-quality education to so many children from underprivileged backgrounds in an area where they might otherwise be recruited by madrassas (Islamic seminaries) that churn out suicide bombers. These children, through education, have some hope for a better future than their parents can provide for them. It is schools like these that should be funded and supported by donors as they offer the best possible alternative to the Talibanisation of Pakistan.”
Fazilia High School itself was originally a madrassa, teaching only a narrow religious curriculum, but was converted into a mainstream co-ed school in February 2000 by the Fazilia Trust, a Pakistani educational charity based in Islamabad.
From 22 students in 1999, the school now has 382 students, 170 of whom come from poor backgrounds and study for free. Rina says that at first the people in Garhi Afghana village were shocked that the school was going to teach girls and boys together and many parents withdrew their children. However, the school distributed pamphlets and reassured the community that they were not intending to westernise the children, just provide them with a better education. Now even the local mullah’s children attend the school.
“Now the classes are full and the trust has plans to construct more classrooms,” says Rina. “The school is a cheerful place, with classrooms painted in bright colours. Last year they brought in better teachers (mostly women from the nearby community). Maimoona was one of those new teachers. She is articulate, well educated (she has a Masters degree) and has incredible confidence. She is clearly a professional who enjoys her job as a teacher. The children look up to her.”
Panos London set up the Voices from the Ground blog a little over a year ago to provide first-hand accounts from local people in developing countries whose lives are affected by the Millennium Development Goals.
Maimoona joins “Ambra” (Takhelchangbam Ambravati), a grassroots volunteer with a local NGO near Imphal, the capital of Manipur in northeast India, Tia Dag who set up a school in one of Sao Paulo’s favelas and Zubaida Noor whose NGO has been providing houses for families who lost their homes in Pakistan’s devastating floods in August last year.
We will be introducing some more new bloggers soon…