An Afghan refugee who defies all odds; makes possible girls’ education in camps

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By Rafiullah Mandokhail

 

PISHIN: Almost four decades back, millions of Afghans began fleeing the violence in their country and migrated to neighboring Pakistan. According to an estimate, Pakistan currently hosts 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees and another one million unregistered. Half of the migrated Afghan refugee population settled in the ten refugee camps in different parts of Balochistan including Pishin, Noshki, Muslim Bagh and Loralai districts.

A child was born to an Afghan family in 1986 in the Band Khushdil Khan area of ??Pishin district. The parents named him as Zahir Khan but later on Zahir Pashtoon. After few years, in 1987 the Afghan family moved from Band Khushdil Khan to Saranan Afghan refugee camp in the district.

In 1993, the Ministry of SAFRON established two schools at Saranan camp, where Zahir also got himself enrolled with the other Afghan children.

Over the time, Save the Children also opened more schools for boys and girls in the camp of thousands of Afghan refugees. The community made up of labourer and daily wage workers strongly opposed girl’s education in general while co-education in particular as they could not understand the importance of girls’ education. Despite all odds and criticism, Zahir Pashtoon left no stone unturned to continue the girls’ education project. Teachers were hired from the provincial capital Quetta to teach the girls as there was no female teacher in the slum.

After few years, it was stipulated that the girl who passed the sixth grade and the boy who passed matriculation would be given job as a teacher. Eager to study and move on, Zahir Pashtoon passed the written test and finally appointed as a teacher. He started teaching the poor and unfortunate boys as well as girls with dedication also in leisure time. Save the Children awarded him the Best Performance Award. Due to the negative attitude of the people, the girls’ school was once again closed but reopened with the support and hectic efforts of Zahir. The tireless efforts of Zahir Pashtoon bore fruit and the primary school upgraded to a high secondary school. So far, dozens of boys and girls have graduated from the same educational institution. Moreover, walks, rallies and seminars have also been held under the ‘Every Afghan Child in School’ slogan, so that the people could enroll their children in educational institutions. The school is named Ghazi Amanullah Khan Girls and Boys high school Saranan.

In addition to his academic responsibilities, Zahir Pashtoon has also been remained involved in social activities for the welfare of Afghan community. He helps orphan children, widows and the helpless segment in the camp with the help of various national and international organizations and philanthropists. Moreover, he takes care of the children who are either studying or work as labourer. At the moment, 1300 children – 600 girls and 700 boys, in the refugee camp are studying in a single school. Apart from this, in six other schools in the camp have more than 5,000 Afghan students.

Although, for the registered refugees residing in the country, access to free education is a distant dream and rates of enrolment for the Afghan children across the country always remained low. According to an estimate almost 80% of the school-aged Afghan refugee children currently out of school, but the continuous struggle of Zahir Pashtoon for the Afghan community bore fruit and today hundreds of boys and girls are studying. Despite the challenges, Zahir Pashtoon remained stuck to his commitment to educate every and each Afghan child educated, but unfortunately he has not been awarded so far for his decade-long services.