ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s northern areas, known for their scenic beauty, present an irony. A majority of the residents of these areas live a life of poverty marred by illiteracy in an underdeveloped set-up.
HunzaNews, January 8th, 2015.
To help the people of the northern areas, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has begun an initiative to educate and train underprivileged children of underdeveloped and far-flung areas, especially in Pakistan’s north, in order to promote education and sports activities. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has seconded the idea and is working with the PAF.
PAF initiated two programmes in this respect three years back—Free Education and Training (FET) and Volunteer Programme in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). In the volunteer programme, educated individuals are selected from various walks of life from throughout Pakistan; those who want to travel and visit these areas during summer vacations. The PAF takes responsibility of their travel and accommodation and in return these people teach and train children in G-B.
Recently, PAF has begun running these programs in Naltar, a valley at an hour’s drive from Gilgit. The children are being provided free books. Computer labs have been set up and salaries are being given to local teachers. PAF is also training skiers in the area with the help of the Ski Federation of Pakistan (SFP).
SFP spokesperson Obaid Abbasi told The Express Tribune that different governments floated different ideas to deal with the situation but in vain. The idea of private-public partnership is not new but few private organisations and agencies are ready to give a helping hand to the government in overcoming the menace of illiteracy, he said. He added it was a unique initiative taken by PAF to give free education to children in underdeveloped areas and CAA was the first to second the idea.
In Abbasi’s opinion, the idea has the potential to bring a major change in the lives of locals, and immediate attention is required not only from the government but the private sector too. He was of the view that it was imperative to persuade private partners to take part in enhancing the literacy rate of the country and to develop sports through imparting education and proper training.
He said that people of Naltar are natural skiers and Naltar is called the Home of Skiers. Two Olympians, Muhammad Karim who participated in Sochi Olympics, and Muhammad Abbas, who participated in Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, belong to this valley. Abbasi was of the view that the people of these areas do not prefer sending their children, especially girls, to schools and they are also unable to educate their children owing to financial constraints.
The initiative, therefore, promises to improve the lives of the future generations. Karim said that it was indeed a very good initiative and is helping in the development of the area. He said that it would have been impossible for him to go for Sochi Olympics without the assistance of PAF and SPF.
Abbasi is also in charge of CAA Ski Affairs. He revealed that CAA had approved Rs0.5 million for the education and training of children in the area annually. The project will also be extended to other areas, he added.
Director General (DG) CAA Air Marshal Muhammad Yousaf said, “We supported the idea and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with PAF to provide Rs0.5 million annually to the Ski Federation for free education and training of children”. He added that this will not only help enhance the literacy rate of the area but also nurture talent.
Talking to The Express Tribune, SFP Secretary General, Air Commodore Mussarat Ali, said there are only two schools in Naltar—a primary school for girls and a middle school for boys, and good teachers are hesitant to come there from other areas, while local teachers are incompetent. The volunteer programme, therefore, is of great importance. The volunteers who are selected teach children and also give training to teachers, he said, adding: “Three years have passed; now people are more open to sending their children and even girls to schools”.
PAF also has been arranging sports competitions in the area for the last few years and the winners are given free education and training.