Three Cups of Tea still crucial in Pakistan

Pakistan faces a “demographic disaster” if it doesn’t address the needs of its young people, So says a new report commissioned by the British Council, which reveals that only 40 per cent of Pakistani children are enrolled in school, and most Pakistani youths despair of their future.

No wonder some Pakistani young people are susceptible to the appeals of radical clerics.

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The difference between what is, and what could be, becomes clear when we look at the ongoing work of Greg Mortenson, of Three Cups of Tea fame, who is still building girls’ schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He now has 133 schools in those two countries, and the appeals pour in to his Central Asia Institute daily, from local villagers and educators who are desperate for schools to serve their young people.

The failure of Pakistan’s government to deliver essential services is revealed in the desperate pleas, some handwritten, that were shown to me by Suleiman Minhas (pictured here), the operations manager for Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute office in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“There is no shelter and no proper tent,” wrote one headmaster of a coeducational middle school in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, where an earthquake devastated the area in 2005. Four years later, many students are still studying outdoors, for lack of buildings. Another administrator, from a Girls High and Boys high school outside Muzaffarabad, wrote “Stuents and teachers are sitting outside in open space.”

In both cases the educators pleaded with the Central Asia Institute to help them with prefab buildings. Minhas’s folder is full of such urgent requests. Mortenson’s team paid teachers’ salaries in refugee camps for evacuees from Swat, the valley taken over by Taliban last year and now cleared by Pakistan’s army. In such camps, militants rush to set up social services and hardline religious instruction. Again, Mortensen’s work shows what must be done to prevent such indoctrination, and where Pakistani government officials are failing.

“Peace is never made by politicians, only by people to people,” says Minhas, a former driver who first met Mortenson when he set out to build his first school in Pakistan. Minhas, who plays a big role in Mortenson’s book, decided he wanted to dedicate his life to helping the school project.

Building and staffing schools is clearly a key antidote to the despair evinced in the British Council report, and the Central Asia Institute is showing how it can be done, cheaply and effectively.

During the Christmas season, anyone who wants to learn more about how to help build schools in Pakistan, can visit the Institute’s website at www.ikat.org.

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