Education Is Key in Pakistan

Mrs. Veeda Javaid poses with silk scarves made by Pakistani girls
Mrs. Veeda Javaid poses with silk scarves made by Pakistani girls in the "Girls at Risk" project
TAMPA (2009-05-04) -

There was another Taliban attack on an army convoy in Pakistan over the weekend. It underscores how fragile that country is. We talk with the head of a Christian school system in Pakistan, who is visiting the Bay Area to spread the word that education is a possible solution to the fighting.

Instead of conflict, Veeda Javaid sees opportunity when she talks about her country. The former math and physics teacher supervises 14 Presbyterian schools in the Punjab region of Pakistan. Of their 4,000 students, 60 percent are Muslim.

"Through our schools we can dare to build a bridge between Christians and Muslims," Javaid says. Similarly, the Presbyterian Education Board in Pakistan is working to build bridges between Shiites and Sunnis and the East and West. "We're hoping to bring peace in Pakistan and all around the world and education is the key."

Javaid loves to tell the story of a local Taliban leader who wanted to meet with her. She kept avoiding him worried about what he might say. Finally, her pastor intervened and insisted.

Javaid met with the Taliban leader, only to find out he wanted his daughter to attend the Presbyterian academy. The 7-year-old was enrolled and given a scholarship. At the end of the school year, the father told Javaid how his young daughter confronted him in their home, while he and other Sunni leaders were talking about the Shiites. The leader's response was to ask to have his second daughter enrolled. And this time he was willing to pay the tuition.

While only 2 percent of Pakistanis are Christian, the Presbyterian Church has run schools there for more than 150 years, except for the period between 1972 and 1998, when the schools were nationalized. Even now, the Pakistani government still sets the curriculum. But, Javaid says school leaders can add more rigorous courses.

One thing the government does not do is provide money. All the funding comes from the Presbyterian community and parents. It costs $35 a month to board and educate a child, $13 a month for just school. And parents who can pay are charged a $2 fee.

The schools are single gender - so far there are three for boys and 11 for girls.

"Early in the history, the missionaries they focused more on educating the girls because they believed by educating a girl we educate a mother and by educating a mother it is said we can educate a nation," Javaid says.

Her mother came from a poor family and would not have eaten regularly or been educated had it not been for a scholarship at a Presbyterian school. At her mother's request, Javaid took the job as executive director of the schools as a repayment for her mother's care. Now, Javaid is offering more than education, she's helping "Girls at Risk".

"In Pakistan, we always joke about it, that the women are always at risk some of them are at greater risk and some of them at minor risk," Javaid says.

The Girls at Risk Project started small in Sangla after Christian churches were burned a few years ago. The PEB started by providing shelter, then adult education and economic independence.

The girls and women make tie-dye silk scarves to support the project. Their $15 scarves have helped more than 5,000 women and girls, according to Javaid, who were threatened with honor killings, child labor and sexual abuse.

Javaid is visiting a retired pastor in Lakeland, who is head of a non-profit that's supporting the schools. She will travel to Philadelphia for her third son's graduation from college and then head back home to Pakistan.

For details on the Presbyterian Education Board in Pakistan, click here.

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