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Published: October 10th 2006
Hello All! I have a lot to catch you up on! It is really October 10th and I am back in Kisumu, having arrived last night from my Dubai and Pakistan travels. Today I am weary! I have even had a nap! My head and heart are full and my pockets are a little emptier. Yes I enjoyed some market and souk therapy while both in Pakistan and Dubai. My favorite new toy is a combination phone, camera and walkman. My goal was to replace my Ipod which died on me a month or so ago! And for just a little bit more in the Dubai souk who could resist the latest combination gadget from Sony!!!! I guess you can't take the love of gadgets out of the girl!!!! I also have brought some amazing treasures back from Pakistan and Dubai. I am convinced I must have been a persian princess in one of my previous lives. The fabrics, the rugs, the jewellery are rich, stunning and vibrant. And yes I have some wonderful samples!
I have a few quiet days here in Kisumu to recharge then I am off to Nairobi, Mombassa and Zanzibar on the weekend. I am
very much looking forward to this coastal trip. I again will be the guest of Aga Khan University -- reconnecting with Gordon Macleod -- to tour and see first hand the work of the Institute for Educational Development (IED) and the Professional Development Centre (PDC). Both are working to enhance the skills and resources available to grade school teachers -- to improve the quality of education. This work is creating a quiet revolution in Northern Pakistan and is so needed in East Africa. But let me rewind and give you a sense of what I experienced in the North of Pakistan -- where indeed I have left a piece of my heart! I know Sherali, Jim, Chris and Ruth will know of what I write! So let me take you back to my five memorable days in the Northern Regions of Pakistan (September 29th to October 3rd)
As I indicated earlier, I have witnessed a quiet peaceful revolution in the mountain regions of the north driven by education and community mobilization. My host and wonderful friend Dr. Molodad Shafa was my tour guide for the 5 days, along with Sherdil the amazing mountain driver who's name means lion heart
in Urdu -- and who got us safely to our various destinations. Dr. Shafa is the Director of Aga Khan University's PDCN (Professional Development Centre North). He has a PhD in Educatin from the University of Toronto and has returned to his rural home to live and work. He is a wonderful host and also made arrangements for me to experience the local music and the ethnic dances one evening. It is generally the men that dance in public but yes I was the exception to the rule! What an evening - thank you Moladad!
PDCN is based in Gilgit, Pakistan and supports professional development training and resources for teachers in these remote northern villages. The programs are working and partnering both with government schools (majority) and Aga Khan Educational Services schools. I was so impressed with PDCN’s organization, methodology, in-school resources and continual supports that are improving education in the remote villages, particularly for girls. And this is significant because women in many of these communities have not had the right or opportunity for education in the past. The PDCN supported schools are seen as a beacon of hope in the communities for a better future, for a
better standard of living. While many of the schools may be in dis-repair, there is color, pictures, learning aids visible, resource centers and all together creating a stimulating learning environment. There is a strong sense of team and camaraderie amongst the staff. The teachers jointly problem solve and support each other. Development plans are proudly displayed and acted upon. And this is all having amazing impact on the students! I was so impressed with the respectful, focussed and ambitious nature of the students from grade 1 to grade 10! I had some wonderful conversations with the students and encouraged them to ask questions about Canada -- of course many did not know where Canada was! In each of the classrooms there was a common question -- I was asked what the people of Canada were like -- now I thought -- what a great question and it also illustrated how these kids are focussed and interested in people! Interesting! But you also have to know that the people of Northern Pakistan are the warmest, kindest, generous and peaceful people I have met! Again a reminder to be very careful about using the media as your source of information and opinion
I was also struck by the architecture of the flag ship Aga Khan facilities such as PDCN, Aga Khan School Sherqilla and AKHSS for Girls Hunza. These “places” of learning instill confidence, excellence and aspiration in the rural landscape. Their beauty and aesthetic appeal is an attraction. This is particularly important in the context of educating girls - who often are still viewed as second-class citizens. The substance and beauty of the place sends messages of status and importance. I was reminded that place matters!
You should also know that families undertake great sacrifice to send their children to school. This is an agrarian based economy - potatoes, maize and fruits. It is costly to pay fees and forego the extra pair of hands working the fields. But consistently in the 3 community meetings we attended, the parents’ commitment to education was demonstrated by their words and their presence. There was such gratitude and appreciation for the work of PDCN. There was a confidence and pride in their accomplishments and that of their children, again especially their daughters!
The industry and work ethic of the Northern people is impressive. This is a rugged land - full
of stone and raging rivers. Yet ingeniously with the rocks terraces are built to make fields and to make the land productive. The terracing fascinated me! The landscape is beautiful and dramatic. Again I felt at home amongst these peaks.
I was reminded on this trip of the importance of being visible in one’s support and encouragement. Time and time again, our visits were seen as great encouragement and support to the people. It was significant and meaningful to the villagers that Dr. Shafa and I took the time and made the effort to visit. In fact, when I arrived home from Kisumu yesterday I received a heart warming note from Molodad that reminded me of one of these visits. I was paid a wonderful compliment by one of the village elders in Gilmit. I was told that my name in Urdu means paradise and that my visit was providing them encouragement and support from the heavens. It was a special moment that touched me profoundly.
Most of all, I am inspired by the ambitions of the students I met, particularly the girls. They are striving to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and even space scientists. We met a
young girl who had just finished at the top of her class in exams and had also ranked first in the region. She proudly announced that she plans to be a space scientist! She loves science and astronomy! I teased her about being a rocket scientist -- she giggled at that. I also have no doubt she will reach her dream -- you could see the drive, passion and commitment in her eyes. I vowed that very moment to do all I could to help her and other students like her in these poorest and remotest of villages to reach for the stars!
Now you are also probably wondering why I have titled this entry to China and back again! Well I somehow missed completely that Pakistan borders China on the east! In fact the North has been highly influenced by the Chinese. The road we travelled is the ancient silk trading route. Today the road is being re-built and expanded by Chinese contractors and workers -- some 400,000 are expected to work on the road over the next few years!
So on October 1st Moladad, Sherdil (the amazing driver -- have a look at the roads!) and
I travelled some 4 hours from Gilmit to reach the Pakistan-Chinese Border! We then travelled another 6 hours back to Gilgit. But it was worth it because I stood in China that day and what an amazing feeling. It was also a challenging drive - hair pin turns, no barriers, sheer rock and washed out roads at times -- but again what a highlight! We met several Chinese Nationals who were doing a similar trip from the Chinese side. We came together and took a photo -- a true symbol of peace and internatinal friendship. As I told Molodad -- this was definitely a day to remember!
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