On the threshold of change - Girls' education does make a difference

Monika Girls High School Bagrote Valley/Pakistan: Project Report 1992 - today

The school for girls had a modest start. Furnishings were basic, means limited. Elders reaction to such a novelty was cautious at best. A hitherto male sphere to be suddenly trespassed? An education for girls?

Yet winds of change had started to blow in Bagrote, a remote valley in Pakistan's province Gilgit-Baltistan. An ambitious lot of only twenty girls were to set a milestone in the region's schooling history. And what at first seemed to be an uphill battle has now changed into easier sailing for Bagrote`s young female population. As today's students prove: Girl's education does make a difference!

Yet today's serious efforts to put girls and boys on an equal footing had to come a long way. Bagrote Valley is a region long admired by writers, travellers, and scientists for it's location at the very heart of the gigantic Karakorum range of mountains and it's age-old customs. A two-hours jeep ride away from Gilgit, the urban centre of the Gilgit-Baltistan Province the valley of Bagrote extends over roughly 25 km. The valley is lined with terraced fields which are fed by a highly sophisticated irrigation system and inhabited by approx. 9000 people of the Shia faith. Mainly farmers they grow wheat, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, apricots and nuts, breed goats, sheep and cattle. Many families do not have a regular income due to a lack of education and opportunities. Age-old traditions are still prevailing which allows the scientist ample insights into the area's huge variety of languages, history and geography but are not conducive to change.

It was in this tradition that I first set foot to Bagrote in 1990. Being an anthropologist myself I came as a member of the interdisciplinary German-Pakistan Culture Area Karakorum Project (CAK) to undertake research into the culture of Bagrote where I particularly focussed on women's culture and development.

At the time of my stay, girls were still neglected in favour of boys when it came to schooling and education. Only a small number of girls had passed primary school privately with no access to a middle and high school education due to a lack of facilities. Others were totally without the opportunity to learn reading and writing and to study Pakistan's lingua franca Urdu in a place where the local language is a different one, Shina.

Many teenaged girls privately stated their keen interest in gaining these basic skills. Some even went so far as to share their concern about their inferior position in a changing society. They feared to be married to an educated boy which may result in neglectance by their husband and a feeling of shame by their own children for an illiterate mother. Although on paper Government primary schools for girls had existed in the larger villages in Bagrote since 1991, no teachers had been appointed to Bagrote until recently.

It was then that I initiated Monika's Girls High School as a small neighbourhood school. Following a joint initiative with my host, twenty girls were the first to be taught by a young local in his private house in Datuchi-Das in 1992. A year later, the number of students had increased to 40 attending primary and secondary syllabuses. Two female teachers from Gilgit were soon appointed as full-time teachers and were paid for by donations. In that year our neighbourhood school shifted to an old empty school building, located near the linkroad to Datuchi-Kot.

In 1994, the number of female students had increased to more than 70. Due to a lack of educated local women, two local male teachers were appointed full-time. This decision was made in consultation with the girls' parents. Expenses for the teachers continued to be covered privately.

In October 1995, I came back to Bagrote to visit our private high school. At that time, 118 girls were studying at all levels, from primary to 10th class. Students in secondary level came from the villages of Datuchi, Sinakir, Hope, and Bulchi. Since its start in 1992, our private school has been open to female students from all villages. Some girls live an hour's walk away from our school and cover this distance daily.

Government officials promised to support our school in its quest for a new school building. The old building with three rooms needed repairs and had become much too small to host 118 students. With the help of a small German women's organization (Forum Kinder in Not e.V.), I was in this year able to provide salary funds for three teachers for another three years and some additional funds for necessary repairs on the old building and equipment.

In 1996 and 1997, a total of 16 girls passed final exams and are now working as village health workers in the area of Bagrote or as primary school teachers. Since the beginning of 1997, a female local volunteer teacher has been teaching full-time at our private school along with the three teachers previously mentioned. In 1997, the villagers of Datuchi themselves provided voluntary support. They constructed a school wall and a schoolyard. For this purpose they even moved the linkroad to Datuchi-Kot, which had previously passed right alongside the school building.

In June 1998, I paid a second visit to Bagrote to watch our private school progress. 122 girls were attending classes. Female students came from the villages of Sinakir, Hope, Bulchi, Oshikhandas, and Datuchi. That year, two girls' students passed final exams. One, though married, went to Gilgit and later to Peshawar for professional nurse and midwife training. Education does make a difference!

In 1999 the number of students had gone up to 152 reaching 174 in June 2000, 216 in September 2003 and 235 in September 2004. And our efforts had far-reaching consequences: Elders were meanwhile more than willing to forfeit traditional barriers and fight for modern causes. A Government Girls Middle School had been established in the largest village, Farfui and several Government Girls Primary Schools are now operating in each of the six villages.

Furthermore, three English Medium Community Schools practising even co-education have been founded in 1997 and 1998 by DUBANI, a young locally based self-help development organisation of the villagers of Bagrote and the neighbouring Haramosh valley. In 2002, the community schools which are funded by the students' parents who are mainly teachers or wealthy farmers have been united and nowadays are operated by Bagrote Association for Social Enhancement (BASE), a new self-help initiative. Despite being a driving force for female education in Bagrote our privately run school still lacks full formal recognition.

And despite numerous concerns by parents regarding possible laziness, or even worse, disobedience by educated girls the young and eager students are proving the opposite: Girls are still fulfilling their various duties at home and when gradutated are also active in community work, mainly teaching and health care. Some contribute a regular cash income to their families.

Their marriage options have increased among the local male and educated youth. Their average age of marriage and in turn their maternity age has risen which in future may lead to a lesser number of childbirths, to healthier mothers and babies and to family planning practices. The extended knowledge on hygiene and basic health care is already visible in households in which educated girls live and work. Step by step, a change in attitudes towards child rearing, nutrition and hygiene is taking take place.

Education does make a difference. An impressive number of 235 students in 2004 and the spinoff just described proves that the Monika Girls High School has meanwhile gained a reputation which far exceeds the narrow borders of Bagrote Valley. In early 2005, a further milestone has been reached by expanding into the sphere of higher secondary education: Newly arranged 11th class' instructions were attended by 35 girls students. With the start of the new term, their number further increased and Bagrot people proudly started speaking of their Girls College. Meanwhile the girls school hosted 250 students.

At my visit in 2006, 265 students visited the school and 40 young ladies attended 11th and 12th class instructions. In 2007, their number had climbed up to 44 while 221 girls studied in school classes.

In Bagrote, the interest in girls education seems to have no limit yet, as the numbers and activities in the year 2010 prove: 299 school students and 63 College students, climbing up from 270 and 28 in 2008. Since March 2009 also instructions for the Certificate of Teaching are provided, as some young ladies are very eagerly trying to meet all formal requirements set by the Education Department for a teacher`s post at government schools.

The disastrous rain floods in summer 2010 which have struck and destroyed large areas of Pakistan have been comparatively mild in Bagrote. Inhabitants, cattle and houses remained safe. But crops (wheat, fruits and vegetables) have been destroyed by the water. Prices for daily goods like food, gas, wood have increased by 50-100%. The electricity supply broke down and has not been fully restored yet. Luckily the school buildings have dried quickly and classes have been restartet after summer.

During my stay in September 2011 the girls school hosted 307 students and the numbers were still on the rise, as admissions for college-classes 11 and 12 were on-going.

At my visit in September 2012, 355 girls students visited the school. The expenses for 14 teachers have been funded privately. Costs related to 11.000 EUR. Additionally, we have been able to construct one more classroom.

In 2013, 289 Bagrote girls attended pre-school and classes 1 to 10, and 65 young ladies attended college classes 11 to 13. Grade 13, which is also called 3rd year has been started in September 2013 for the very first time. Two additional teachers have been hired for this new class.

Yet, another milestone was reached in 2014: Grade 14 resp. 4th year college started in september. 18 teachers were guiding 217 girls ans 89 college students. And the classroom built in late 2012 offers additional space to accomodate a computer lab on the school premises. Computers and further equipment have been provided by the regional school authority, one female IT instructor.

In October 2015, 222 high school students and 50 college students were instructed by 15 privately funded and 10 government teachers.

Last but not least, I would like to inform you about a new development. Until recently, disabled persons have not been provided any literacy classes in Bagrote. With the help of a hearing impaired young local lady who has attended special schooling in Karachi, we have been able to encourage some parents to offer schooling to their hearing impaired children. Since January 2013, she regularly teaches a small group of children with great success. Already twice two students of this group stood first and second in primary school exams. Experiencing these achievements may raise awareness among the valley’s population for special children’s competences and needs. This pilot project is funded by the students of a special education school in Germany.

The expenses for schooling year 2015-2016 will sum up to 18.000 EUR.

The people of Bagrote and myself are very grateful for the donations by friends and friends of friends, which keep the school running and growing. The girls of Bagrote send their heartiest greetings and warm thanks to all supporters. They always remind me to convey their best wishes and tell their story of success.

Monika Schneid, December 2015

Contact:Monika Schneid Marienthaler Strasse 156 20535 Hamburg, Germany
Tel: +49-40-250-37-08 Mail: monika@monikaschneid.de Web: www.bagrote.net

Donation Account: Forum Kinder in Not e.V.
IBAN: DE31641500200002753609, SWIFT-BIC: SOLADES1TUB
Reference: "Bagrot/Pakistan". By indicating your complete address on the transfer form, a donation receipt will be provided.

Monika Girls Highschool+College Project Report 1992-2015.pdf

 

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