Breaking the status quo: A proud refugee father
QUETTA, 31 August 2017: A father takes his daughter to a school where she is the only girl student amongst the boys as there is no school for girls in the village. He faces sarcastic remarks from many people in the community for being odd, but that does not shake his resolve. He strongly believes in a better and brighter future for girls and considers education as the basic right of every human being.
This is the story of Mohammad Ullah, an Afghan refugee, who came to Pakistan at the age of seven with his family from Maiwand, Afghanistan when war broke out in the early 80s. Today he is a school-teacher in Mohammad Khail refugee camp, 100 kilometres from the provincial capital Quetta, in the north-western Pakistani province of Balochistan. He accompanies his daughter Sakina to school and lives in a society where girls are allowed to attend school until grade three, ten years old and then they often married before their 15th birthday.
Mohammad Ullah has three daughters and seven sons. He has stood firm against the pressure and hostility from his community. He has not only succeeded in providing his daughters with the highest level of education available in the area, but also supported his daughters to establish a home-based school and skill centre for girls and women in the refugee camp.
His kind and charitable family is a reflection of his enlightened personality. He calls his wife his good luck because according to him, after getting married, good things started happening in his life and she was source of support and encouragement all the way. His eldest daughter Sakina now teaches the girls from the community in the morning, while in the evening her younger sister Arfa gives training on tailoring to the girls free of charge. Mohammad Ullah himself is also an active member of polio eradication campaign in the camp.
Despite community pressure, his wife, Aisha Bibi refused to follow the social practice of marrying off a girl at the age of 13. She says: “I am looking for educated grooms for my daughters who can understand and support my daughters.”
Mohammad Ullah taught his sons to be kind and supportive of their sisters. The eldest brother brings books suggested by his sister on various topics and the three sisters and brother sit together discuss the contents of the book.
Sakina, 22 and her younger sister Arfa, 18 credit their success to their father. The two girls want to continue their studies after 10 grade but they cannot due to financial constraints. The bright daughters believe that knowledge is more important than a degree.
Sakina, with the support of her father and the Society for Community Strengthening and Promotion of Education, established a home-based schools for girls who were not allowed by their families to attend regular schools for cultural reasons.
Arfa learned sewing from a centre established by UNHCR partner Innovative Development organisation. She now trains girls in her community. Arfa earns her pocket money by designing dresses and wishes to be a dress designer one day.
Mohammad Ullah expresses his happiness and pride to see his daughters empowered and serving their community. His daughters and a son have passed the 10th grade standard and for higher education they need to travel to other cities. He is determined that if his financial situation allows, he will send them for higher studies.
Humera Karim in Quetta