By Samad Shabnam
It is a distant dream for the registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan to access free education and enrolment rates for Afghan children across the country always remained low. Data shows that almost 80% of the school-aged Afghan refugee children are currently out of school, but the continuous struggle of an Afghan refugee for the Afghan community bore fruit, and today hundreds of boys and girls are studying. Despite the challenges, the Afghan refugee’s leader remained stuck to his commitment to educating each and every Afghan child educated.
Forty years back, millions of Afghans began fleeing the violence in their country and migrated to neighboring Pakistan. According to an estimate, Pakistan currently hosts 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees and another one million unregistered. Half of the migrated Afghan refugee population settled in the ten refugee camps in different parts of Balochistan including Saranan, Katwei, Surkhab, Gardi Jangle camps.
A child was born to an Afghan family in 1986 in the Band Khushdil Khan area of ?? Pishin district. The parents named him Zahir Khan but later on Zahir Pashtoon. After a few years, in 1987 the Afghan family moved from Band Khushdil Khan to Saranan Afghan refugee camp in the district.
In 1993, the Ministry of SAFRON established two schools at Saranan camp, where Zahir also got himself enrolled with the other Afghan children.
Save the Children also opened more schools for boys and girls
Over time, Save the Children also opened more schools for boys and girls in the camp of thousands of Afghan refugees. The community made up of laborers and daily wage workers strongly opposed girls’ education in general while co-education in particular as they could not understand the importance of girls’ education. Despite all odds and criticism, Zahir Pashtoon left no stone unturned to continue the girls’ education project. Teachers were hired from the provincial capital Quetta to teach the girls as there was no female teacher in the slum.
After a few years, it was stipulated that the girl who passed the sixth grade and the boy who passed matriculation would be given a job as a teacher. Eager to study and move on, Zahir Pashtoon passed the written test and was finally appointed as a teacher. He started teaching the poor and unfortunate boys as well as girls with dedication also in leisure time. Save the Children awarded him the Best Performance Award. Due to the negative attitude of the people, the girls’ school was once again closed but reopened with the support and hectic efforts of Zahir. The tireless efforts of Zahir Pashtoon bore fruit and the primary school upgraded to a high secondary school. So far, dozens of boys and girls have graduated from the same educational institution. Moreover, walks, rallies and seminars have also been held under the ‘Every Afghan Child in School’ slogan so that the people could enroll their children in educational institutions. The school is named Ghazi Amanullah Khan Girls and Boys high school Saranan.
Zahir Pashtoon has also been remained involved in social activities for the welfare of the Afghan community
In addition to his academic responsibilities, Zahir Pashtoon has also been remained involved in social activities for the welfare of the Afghan community. He helps orphan children, widows, and the helpless segment in the camp with the help of various national and international organizations and philanthropists. Moreover, he takes care of the children who are either studying or working as laborers. At the moment, 1300 children – 600 girls and 700 boys, in the refugee camp are studying in a single school. Apart from this, six other schools in the camp have more than 5,000 Afghan students.
Although, for the registered refugees residing in the country, access to free education is a distant dream, and rates of enrolment for Afghan children across the country always remained low. According to an estimate, almost 80% of the school-aged Afghan refugee children are currently out of school, but the continuous struggle of Zahir Pashtoon for the Afghan community bore fruit, and today hundreds of boys and girls are studying.
The Afghan refugees have demanded of the UNHCR and Ministry of SAFRON to award Zahir Pashtoon for his tireless services and contributions in the education and health sectors.