Originally published on December 2, 2014.
Chanting poems aloud, moving to and fro in rhythm, schoolgirls revise their compositions, while Murad Jan directs them. They sit on bricks under the shade of a tree. There is practically no furniture and not enough rooms for all of them, yet they are determined and content to be in school. The school is full of life, and it is hard to imagine that it was deserted and closed, not so long ago.
Murad Jan shares the story of the school she heads. She successfully reopened the school after it was devastated by floodwaters.
Murad Jan grew up in Brahvi clan’s conservative culture, excited about a future in education, despite having an uneducated mother and a strict grandfather at home. ”My grandfather would lock us [up at] home when he would go to work, so that none of us could go out to play, study or work. My mother never got educated. I could not see myself and the girls of my community ending up the same way — an illiterate for life; just like my mother,” Murad explained as she recalled the past.
Murad Jan studied on her own to become a teacher. She is now the headmistress of Aziz Kharani Government Girls Primary School, in a remote village in Pakistan’s Sindh province, in Jacobabad district. The school was inundated by floodwaters during the destructive flood of 2010 in Pakistan. Locals had to evacuate the village and move to other settlements, while the flood waters receded. It was during this period of homelessness that Murad made an important connection with Land O’Lakes. The connection occurred because a survey was being conducted to quantify the number of schools that were inoperable or not operating in the district.
She managed to arrange the successful reopening of the school with only two teachers, she herself being one of the two; and with an enrollment of 170 girls, out of which only 50 showed up. The reason for the low response and attendance can be attributed to the fact that most of the girls are expected to help their parents in the fields, and some are burdened with completing onerous chores at home.
With support from Land O’Lakes International Development’s Pakistan Food for Education (FFE) program, funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Murad Jan went door-to-door in the village to convince parents to send their daughters to school.
Under the 3-year program, Land O’Lakes distributed a monthly take-home ration of 4 liters of soybean oil to students and teachers who met the program’s attendance requirement of 80 percent. “Families in the village are extremely poor, with an average of 10 members at home, mostly peasants and laborers, earning a daily wage of 50-150 rupees ($0.50 - $1.40) a day. ‘The cooking oil incentive’ was a great source of support for them.”
Initially, parents were not willing to send their daughters to school. The challenge was huge but not insurmountable, given her determination. Murad Jan, through the Pakistan FFE program’s oil incentive, succeeded in persuading parents to send their daughters to school; after all, cooking oil is an important and expensive commodity for any household in Pakistan. The incentive of free oil has given families financial sustainability and it has shown positive results, as more and more girls are being sent to school.
I want to change the mindset of preventing girls from getting education; they have an equal right to education as do the male children.
The program has become so successful that the school is filled to capacity, and new admissions continue to roll in every week. Murad Jan never refuses a potential student girl admission. She has managed to successfully expand the influence of the program into her hometown, too. And for this, she is indebted to the support provided by Land O’Lakes and USDA.
She believes that this program has created a thirst for education among girls. So much so, that they are motivated to continue with schooling, irrespective of the oil initiative. They study at school in a unique way; in groups, playing games and taking part in extra-curricular activities. They are now enthusiastic about attending school.
Most of the girls from the village are in school because of Murad’s efforts. Sanam, a 13-year-old and the youngest of 10 sisters, she is the only member of her family going to school. Her father is old and jobless, and her mother engages in knitting and sewing to feed the family. “I don’t like holidays; school is better than home now. I play, study, have a good time with my friends Khanzadi, Reshma and Nazia, and we walk to school together every day,” said Sanam.
“I want to change the mindset of preventing girls from getting education; they have an equal right to education as do the male children,” said Murad. She hopes to convert the primary school into a high school, so that the girls who pass 5th grade can continue their studies. Currently, the high school is in the city, too far away for the girls to attend on a regular basis.
Now a role model for the regional schools, the program has caused a ripple effect elsewhere. A few of the impacts to-date include:
374 students enrolled, a 120% increase from the initial 170
Threefold increase in the number of teachers, from 2 to 6
Interest in the school expressed by other non-governmental (NGO) agencies