Monday, June 20th marked the eleventh annual World Refugee Day, which was created in December of 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly as a means to raise global awareness about issues such as forced displacement and statelessness.
Barakat’s schools and programs in Pakistan have worked with thousands of Afghan refugees over the years. Many of our beneficiaries have been refugees for over three decades, since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Others were driven from their homes after the Taliban came to power in 1996, or in the last decade when the security condition in Afghanistan began to deteriorate once again.
An elderly man with a long, flowing, white beard, Eid Mohammad, along his wife Oghlaqa, speaks poignantly about fleeing Afghanistan two decades ago. They migrated to Pakistan in 1990 after Eid Mohammad had to spend five months in an Afghan prison for resisting the draft into the Afghan army to fight the mujahidin. Previously, a farmer in a small village of Jowzjan province in Northern Afghanistan, Eid Mohammad did not want to join the army. The couple, along with their six children, reached a refugee camp in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. “I did not know any one there. I did not do anything in the beginning. I looked after my goats and sheep,” says Eid Mohammad. Oghlaqa adds that she “started weaving carpets to earn (money).”
Eid Mohammad and Oghlaqa arrived in Pakistan with six children; now they have nine. Both illiterate themselves, Eid Mohammad and Oghlaqa recognize the important role education can play in their children’s lives. “They can support their family and understand the world easily if they are educated. My eldest son is supporting his family and us just because he got an education in one of the Barakat schools, and is respected by his peers and relatives,” says Eid Mohammad. Looking back on their own childhood in their village, both parents concur. “In Afghanistan, getting an education was not very common, and our parents did not allow us to study.”
Of their two sons, the elder one was able to graduate from Barakat’s Ersari Elementary School, and as a result has a well-paying job as a storekeeper in Afghanistan. The younger one had to be pulled out of school when the family was struggling financially. He was put to work as a manual laborer and continues to be employed as such to-date.
While their five elder daughters were married off, the youngest two avail of Barakat’s Evening School for Girls, while also contributing to the family income by weaving carpets along with their mother in the daytime. As much as Eid Mohammad and Oghlaqa would like to be able to send all of their children to school, they are constrained by their economic situation – in the case of both their boys and girls. When asked about their perception of the importance of education for girls, they agreed, “Yes, it’s very important, but it depends on the financial condition of the family. We are refugees and we have to face a lot of hardships to spend our lives and to fulfill our needs, we have no other option (but) to engage our daughters in weaving carpets, but it is our wish that girls should complete their studies at least to the 10th grade.”
Indeed, for many refugees around the world, education is a right that goes unfulfilled, as they spend much of their time and energy seeking out more basic necessities such as food and shelter. International organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) seek to provide assistance to refugees in these areas. However, there are many thousands who fall through the cracks and would not have any assistance if it were not for smaller NGOs like Barakat. Mohammad bemoaned the lack of support from both the Afghan and Pakistani governments, “Both governments play no role in giving benefits to refugees. They can do it if they are serious about but it doesn’t happen. There are no international organizations in Attock. Only Barakat is providing quality education here.”