How far two friends from different worlds will go to build a school
The Sabawoon Education Academy in Pakistan.

How far two friends from different worlds will go to build a school

The lack of girls’ education is underpinning the lack of major economical and social development in Pakistan

BRATTLEBORO — Peace is more than an intellectual activity; it is a brutally physical one. Peace is ultimately about doing, not thinking.

No one knows this better than Aamir Gamaryani, who can conceive of a solution and then actually implement it.

I first heard Aamir's name in the summer of 2013 in Brattleboro. It was my first year of graduate school at SIT Graduate Institute, and we were both invited to participate in the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) peace-building program.

Aamir inspired me that summer with his thoughts and knowledge of the pressing challenges disquieting the world's people, and he continues to inspire me today. No man has sparked my political and intellectual interests more than he.

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Education is paramount to the development of individuals and nations. In Pakistan, the condition of education is critical. The Pakistani educational system has been described as “rotten to the core.”

Pakistani schools are struggling for basic facilities: 24 percent of schools do not have textbooks; 46 percent do not have desks for their students; and more than half the schools do not have electricity. And the schools that do have electricity are deprived of modern technology.

Inadequacies in the education system which push children out of school include weak infrastructure; untrained and unqualified teachers; physical, emotional, and verbal abuse; strict conditions; and lack of learning materials. More than half of students drop out of school after the primary level of instruction. And 23 million children in Pakistan have never been to school.

Poor-quality education is more than a lack of resources - it is a terrible injustice.

“The current situation is extremely alarming,” Aamir wrote to me in early 2014. “There are dozens of schools in the target area. Unfortunately, none of them is made and developed from the perspective of a school. They are opened in houses, markets, and buildings made for other purposes. I have gathered whatever I have to make a school[...]. I was wondering if you would be able to study the project proposal and explore your efforts to make a contribution.”

I did.

I would play whatever small role I could to aid Aamir in his efforts.

* * *

Pakistan, indeed, faces enormous problems, from extreme ideology to extreme poverty. But there are success stories as well.

My favorite is the story of Sabawoon Education Academy. Aamir proposed establishing a school at the grassroots level to address the needs of children living in the target area of Nowshera, Pakistan, also known as “the birthplace of the Taliban.”

More than 170 schools have been bombed and torched by Taliban militants during recent years in Pakistan. And the Taliban maintains a significant presence in Nowshera today.

This left us with a moral dilemma. Would we be putting the children at risk if we build a school? Especially a school focused on girls' education, peace, and religious tolerance?

If you look at a map, you will see that Sabawoon Education Academy is located in a region that few outside people know about, a region inflicted with severe poverty and religious extremism.

Nowshera is situated to the west of Peshawar, to the east of Swabi, and northwest of Charsadda and Mardan. In 1988 - the year of my birth - Nowshera became its own district in Pakistan. Twenty-six years later, I was asked to help build a school there. I immediately accepted.

Education is perhaps the most important tool for human development and the eradication of poverty. It is the means by which successive generations develop the values, skills, and knowledge for their personal health and safety and for future political, economic, social, and cultural development.

SEA's vision is to create an environment in which children are provided with quality education. Its mission aims to provide children an environment where their rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled through highly trained and qualified teachers and administrative staff who will adopt the highest work ethics, standards, and sense of responsibility.

As we come together to focus on development, we must first set our sights on those who were left behind - girls.

The lack of girls' education is underpinning the lack of major economical and social development in Pakistan. SEA specifically emphasizes girls' education.

It is our hope that Sabawoon Education Academy will become the catalyst for girls' education and a beacon of education in Pakistan's future.

* * *

A collection of photos at Mocha Joe's tells the story of the building of this school. These photographs display cross-cultural communication, understanding, and teamwork.They show how far two friends, from what seem like two different worlds, will go to build a school.

Looking at these photos, again, has allowed me to know my dear friend Aamir better and to appreciate him even more. Nothing came easy for him. And nothing deterred him - not the financial constraints, nor Pakistan's broken bureaucracy, nor the blistering Pakistani sun, nor the heavy Pakistani rains, nor the death threats.

SEA opened its doors in April 2014 with just 14 students. Today, it is thriving with 152 students! Expansion plans include an eighth grade, and construction is underway for a library, as well as both science and English labs.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of an extraordinary endeavor. I am proud, as board director of the school, of our school's contribution to the development of the children and nation of Pakistan.

I am profoundly moved by that privilege and the humbled responsibility I was given by Aamir.

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