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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pakistan: Education unlocks the potential for lasting change


Just over a year ago, a teenage girl in Pakistan was shot in the head by the Taliban because she dared to believe – and to give loud, enthusiastic voice to that belief – that girls in her country should be allowed to go to school.

Today, Malala Yousafzai has recovered from the attempt on her life and continues to be a vocal advocate for girls. More than 43% of Pakistani girls do not go to primary school, and the situation is not much better for Pakistani boys.

In a country with over 60 million school-aged children, this represents an astounding 13 million girls who have never set foot in a classroom and never will unless things change substantially. Things are worse in rural, poor, isolated communities.

Malala is a vivid symbol of a deep-rooted problem that exists not only in Pakistan and did not begin when extremists picked up guns. The struggle to educate all children, and especially girls, is ongoing in many countries where we work.

It is a vital struggle. We have seen over and over again that education is the key to unlocking the potential for lasting change. Children who never have the chance to learn are more likely to stay poor and remain unable to educate their own children. And so the cycle continues.

But it can be broken. In Pakistan, HOPE International Development Agency is working with women and men in communities to break the barriers that prevent girls from going to school. By encouraging mothers and fathers to examine the beliefs and other factors that keep their daughters and sons at home, and offering ideological and practical alternatives, we have started to see encouraging changes.

In one very rural, traditional community, 57 girls started kindergarten this September. These are the first girls to ever attend school in their community.

It does not seem like a lot: 57 girls against 13 million. But for these girls, their sisters, future daughters, and their neighbors, a whole other world has opened up in which they too will be able to give voice to their beliefs – and so a new cycle has begun.