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Maimoona, teaching rural children in Pakistan

Maimoona outside her class in Taxila - Maimoona Shahzadi | Panos London

I started working as a teacher for the Fazila Trust around a year ago. It is an educational charity which runs two schools. I teach at the school in Garhi Afghana, about 40 km from Islamabad. It was once a madrassa [religious seminary] that was converted into a secondary school several years ago. The school still provides some religious classes, but a year ago it modernised its curriculum and improved its standard of education. In fact, that is why I rejoined the school – I had worked here before, but I found the management to be very harsh so I left. I came back when I heard they had changed the management and made several positive changes to the school.

I have a Masters in History from Punjab University. I live with my elder sister, who is also a school teacher here, and my mother in the nearby village, not far from the school. My father passed away a few years ago. My sister and I jointly share the expenses of running the household.

I enjoy teaching here – there is a healthy, positive atmosphere and a certain liveliness among the people working here. The children are being opened up to globalisation and the rigidness that used to be here has gone.

Some of the children at the school come from very traumatised families – in many cases, their fathers are drug addicts.

Heroin addiction is a serious problem in this region. We try to give them positive exposure at the school. I am teaching Class 7, and one of the boys in my class comes from a family in Abbottabad struggling with addiction in the family. His father used to be a tailor but is now a heroin addict. The boy came to board at the school four and a half years ago and now rarely goes home. The situation at home has become very bad. In fact, his mother has sent her two other children to board here as well.

She knows that her future depends on her children doing well in life, and I must say that her son is a well-behaved, good student. The mother is very happy at the way her children are turning out and she is glad she took them out of the negative environment at home. We are careful not to mention his father’s problems in front of the other children and we counsel him alone. He feels normal here. His mother said at the last parent-teacher meeting we had with her: “Don’t send him home for the summer – I don’t want him to be exposed to abuse. I don’t want him to learn anger”.

We keep the boarders over the holidays if they don’t want to go home. Many come from very hard areas. They feel safe here.

As told to


Maimoona Shahzadi