This article was published in the National Peace Corps, Global Education Newsletter by Barbara Janes and Leslie Noyes Mass.
In her remarks to the audience assembled at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Youfaszai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for attending school said, “We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of educational opportunities for girls in the developing world.”
Malala Youfaszai is a strong and resourceful voice for girl’s education in Pakistan. But she is in good company. Although Peace Corps has not had a physical presence in Pakistan since the 1965 (with the exception of a short period in 1990), Peace Corps Volunteers have been advocating and working for female education in Pakistan since the early 1960s.
Aid to Pakistan
In 2005, after a devastating earth- quake in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, a small group of Returned PCVs to Pakistan connected by the internet and organized to send aid to the people of that region. From this connection, Ben Cespedes (Pak I, 1961-63) and his wife, Carol, formed the group into a 501c3 organization named Friends of Pakistan USA (FOPUSA). The members pledged to continue to assist the people in Pakistan with monetary and/or professional expertise.
From their own experiences in Pakistan, the members of FOPUSA were convinced that,
in spite of the restrictions on educating girls in a Muslim country, educating girls makes
good sense: educated girls marry later, earn more money, insist that their children learn to read and write, have healthier families, and make their communities healthier and cleaner. Supporting women and girls’ education in Pakistan became a primary focus of FOPUSA.
Funds for Scholarships
In 2007, following a trip to Pakistan to train teachers for a Pakistani NGO known as The Citizens Foundation, Barbara Janes (Pak I 1961-63), guided FOPUSA to support girls education in Pakistan by raising $2000 per year for scholar-ships for ten girls to attend a Citizens Foundation Secondary school. Over the next five years, FOPUSA raised $10,000 to support fifty girls at the TCF Phengali Girls Secondary school outside of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan.
Two Additional Projects Begin
In 2011, to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the members of FOPUSA pledged to raise another $10,000 for two additional education projects in Pakistan.
The first project, also with The Citizens Foundation, supported mothers of TCF children, who, though illiterate themselves, wanted to learn to read, write and do basic math to help their children with their school work. Known as the Aagahi project, FOPUSA raised $5000 to provide special literacy classes for the 22,000 mothers and older sisters of TCF students in forty cities across Pakistan.
The second FOPUSA 50th anniversary project was with Design for Change, Pakistan, a Pakistani organization to show school children how to make a difference in their communities. FOPUSA raised $5000 to support teams of DFC staff to work with children in primary and middle schools across Pakistan, showing the children how to identify problems in their community, brainstorm ideas for solutions, implement their solutions and report the results. Through this process, the children discovered that they have the power to change their communities and become more active members of their society. http://www.dfcworld.com/dfc/PAKI- STAN/.
Two More Projects
In 2013 FOPUSA voted to support two more projects at girls’ schools in the mountains of Pakistan: Rerra government Girls High School in Azad Kashmir, and three village schools in Manshera District, Khyber Puktunkhwa Province.
The first of these projects, Rerra, began with a friendship between one of FOPUSA’s Board members, Ken Chouquette, and a USAID contractor from the 2005 earthquake area of Azad Kashmir. In 2012, the FOPUSA board raised funds to supply the Rerra Girls Government High School with books for their library. In 2013 FOPUSA added an additional donation to the Rerra project and provided scholarships for six girls to complete their intermediate high school education, making it pos- sible for these girls to go on to higher education and/or entry into professional training programs.
The second FOPUSA 2013 project, Manshera Project in Khyber Puktunkhwa Provice, supports the salaries of three teachers for girls’ higher secondary classes in three villages. Under the auspices of the Hoshyar Foundation, the girls attending these higher secondary classes in the three schools will be eligible to continue on to university or midwife programs after which they will return to their villages to serve their communities. FOPUSA is near its goal of raising $10,000 to complete this project and will continue to accept donations until they reach their goal.
The members of FOPUSA firmly believe that their contributions to the above programs will make a significant impact on the lives of girls attending them. In turn, these educated girls will continue to live in their communities and will improve their lives and the lives of their families for generations to come.
In the words of Malala again, “So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education First.”
If you would like to learn more about work of FOPUSA and help us continue and expand, please visit our website: http://friendsofpakistanusa.org
Barbara Janes (Pak I) and Leslie Noyes Mass (Pak II) contributed to this article.