By Z.A. Zulfi (Booni)
Disclaimer: The names of individuals used in this write up are fictitious however the events and places are real. If matching found it may merely be taken as a coincidence.
Nabeel, 13, a student of grade 8th from a remotest village of Chitral, travels 20 km on rugged mountainous track to reach his school on daily basis. He wakes up at 4am before the crack of dawn even much before the early morning birds, takes a breakfast with a chapatti and a cup of tea. His mother sees him off at the main door. Nabeel accompanied his classmates and other colleagues. Be it a rainy season of spring or snow fall in winter or hot scorching sun in the summer, nothing can stop them to reach their destination. Nabeel and his other friends are always determined to withstand the risky business of travel over mountain and along the river.
Another female student, Mariam of grade 9th student at Govt high school Harchin, Laspur travels 24km daily from her home villge Gasht, Chitral to reach her destination. She wants to be an engineer in the future. When she was asked why she wanted to be, she points her fingers to the dilapidated conditions of roads and bridges.
The story does not have an end here. Countless other students of all age group in Chitral have the same story of covering long distances in search of education. Many a time some untoward situations are faced by them. Last year, 6 students of susum valley in Lotkuh fell prey to the blood thirsty avalanche while on their way to home after taking annual exam in a school which situated at a distance of more than 13km. Another female student of grade 8, from Khuzh valley of Mastuj also met the same fate when she was hit by a heavy rock on the way back to school. She was critically injured and later was rescued to Islamabad for treatment. Covering such a large difficult mileage may seem impossible for others but people here are habitual.
Chitral has very poor road infrastructure therefore these students have no means of travel so they cover such a long distance on foot. There is no hope in near future that these innocent faces get any facility of commuting between their homes and schools.
Writing these lines is not meant to tell the stories of hardships face by the ill fated people of this region rather it is attempts to look for answers to some of the pertinent questions pertain to the factors behind the impetus and thrust for the sake of acquiring knowledge. While, on the other hand we can see people in many areas of Pakistan who are hesitant to send their children to school despite many incentives provided to them in the form of money and ration. According to recent statistics there are 20 million out of school children in Pakistan which is an alarming figure.
Chitral, a loftiest piece of land geographically and culturally isolated from outside world. Its highest mountain range has kept its tradition intact from outside world. The people are thought to be the descendant of various ethnic groups from central Asia, China and Iran. The language spoken here is known by very few people outside the boundaries of the district.
Sitting outside the region one can think of Chitral as the most backward and underdeveloped place. It stands true for the poor infrastructure in the region. However, one’s approach is totally changed unless one see an eyewitness account of the people, its culture and most importantly the motivation for getting knowledge and wisdom possessed by the people. Many of the questions are yet to be researched regarding the thrust of the people, a thrust beyond one’s belief.
People may have multiple perspectives on the driving force behind the thrust for knowledge of the mountainous region. But one thing is sure that Poverty, school distance from home, poor infrastructure facilities in the school and lack of teacher and other facilities which are found to be the top most hindering and de-motivating factors that make people hesitant to send their children to school, are no more enough to hold back the people from quenching their thrust for knowledge. These findings are no more applicable for people here in the most impoverished backward region of Chitral. These findings have been proved null and void. Poverty is no more a barrier in getting education for the mountainous people or fragile infrastructure, school distance and geographical isolation have any meaning. People here are perseverant in any situation. Whatever are the circumstances they always look ahead with optimism and hope for the better days to come? Some years back a socio economic survey in the region showed a very interesting finding that here the people, despite very limited financial resources prefer to spend their meagre financial resources on education than any other luxuries of life. Statistics from the government sources also confirm that Chitral district has very high points in terms of children low drop out and literacy. Major portion of the population here have a very tough time to meet the end. Most of them work as labour in down country or abroad separated from their families for months and years. Hardly have they spent their time with their families during the year. The purpose of this hard life is nothing but only to adorn their generation with education. They bring in some amount earned by various means and spend it on their children education preferably on their daughters.
Researchers always look for new frontiers of mind for the inquiry. They are always in search of new areas to be investigated. For me it is one of the research domains which still lie there unexplored. Therefore, National and international academia and individuals are invited to conduct exploratory research studies on various economic, social and educational aspects of the inspiration, enthusiasm extreme thirst of the people for the education, so that the findings can be replicated so as to formulate model(s) for educating the uneducated masses spread throughout the country and around the world.