Girls Education International has a thriving relationship with our in-country partner Bedari, a nonprofit based in Islamabad, Pakistan. Over the past several years, we have worked closely with Safeer Ullah Khan in his many roles at Bedari, and most recently in his role as the Executive Director. Safeer will be moving on from Bedari to pursue other endeavors in the realm of social justice work within Pakistan, as well as to delve into some of his personal interests, including theater.
Here is a note from Safeer Ullah Khan - a farewell filled with hope:
Education has always been very close to my heart as I believe it is the only way to bring about a sustainable change in a person’s life. Hence, when I heard that there was some American NGO looking for a partner to work for girls’ education in Pakistan, I jumped at the opportunity.
That American NGO was Girls Education International. It is a small organization but has a dedicated team that raises funds for girls’ education and then spends those funds in Pakistan and Tanzania. We worked out the details and started off with a small project supporting 30 girls in their quest for post primary level education. There has been no looking back since then. I served as project manager since 2009 till March 2017 – 8 years to be exact.
We did not change the entire world, but we did change the world of a few girls. This project has lighted up lives of scores of girls, and changed the perception of girls’ education in the communities. Girls’ education is no more an insignificant issue in the communities where we work. Parents have started taking responsibility for their daughters’ education; they have found ways to send their girls to schools.
Not a single girl was going to secondary school when we entered Laphi in 2009 – a village situated in inaccessible mountains of Salt Range nearly 50 kilometers to the South West of Chakwal city. We worked there for 5 years. When the first girl under our project completed her secondary education, a teary eyed volunteer from the village told us that it had happened after a break of 30 years that any girl from Laphi had completed secondary education. Though we discontinued our project in Laphi in 2014, the village boasts of 20 girls with secondary education, and 24 more girls are going to secondary school these days without any support from any NGO or philanthropist.
We then expanded our program, and moved to another 4 villages to repeat the same process. Currently, we are supporting around 90 girls in these 4 villages. So far, we have helped 84 girls to complete their education up to secondary level, 17 more girls up to higher secondary level, and 2 girls up to graduation level. (Secondary level is 10 years of education, higher secondary is 12 years, and graduation is 14 years of education in Pakistani Education System).
We have not only supported girls in going to school, but this project had many additional benefits for girls. The most important of the benefits was delaying their marriages. [5.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals]. Most of these girls would have been married before celebrating their 16th birthday, but only 4 out of 130 girls were married before reaching their 18th birthday. The remaining 126 girls married after attaining the age of 18 years.
We took girls out on study tours, and it was for the first time that most of these girls stepped out of their town. They saw some historical places of their own district for the first time. These exposure trips are a great boost to the girls’ confidence, and their empowerment. The most important feedback from girls was that they could not believe that they could shout, scream, and sing as per their own liking during these trips.
Another important additional support was Self Growth Sessions – these sessions facilitate them in learning various life skills including communications and negotiations skills, dealing with sexual harassment, confidence building, decision making, etc.
These activities – education, sessions, exposure trips, trainings – transformed them from meek and submissive girls to bold and confident girls, who can make their own decisions, and can negotiate with people around them to achieve whatever they want to achieve in their lives. Education coupled with their confidence and other life skills helped some of the girls take up jobs. Around 10 girls have taken up jobs, and a few more have started working from home (home based jobs). This has led to their economic empowerment. It was a great turn around for Bedari. It helped parents realize why Bedari insisted on girls’ education. Parents learnt that girls can also earn, and they are not a mere burden – they are not just mouths to be fed, but living human beings who can support others if provided with opportunities.
Though I am leaving Bedari now, I am proud of having played crucial role in designing, and implementation of this project, and I am sure this project will go on and achieve many more milestones. I would request all supporters of Bedari and GEI to continue supporting this wonderful project, and I assure everyone around that I will be available for any kind of support needed to keep this project going. I will always be a call (or an email) away.
Thank you, Safeer! Girls Education International is honored to have worked with you. Thank you for your leadership in identifying the persistent needs of girls in these remote villages and your contribution toward helping them meet their needs and achieve their goals.