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Pakistan’s Schools for the ‘Poorest of the Poor’

Yesterday, while driving nearly three hours from Islamabad to see rural Permanent Transit Points for polio vaccinations, we passed a “Danish School” in Jand in the district of Attock. My host, Rotarian Nosherwan Khan, recognized that a friend was the principal there and this being 2016 and having a phone in his hand, called up his friend and mentioned we were in the area. He invited us to lunch to have a tour of the facility on our return from Kushal Garh.

Rotarian Nosherwan Khan and Principal Rafi Ud Din

Rotarian Nosherwan Khan and Principal Rafi Ud Din

There are, I learned, 14 Danish or Daanish Schools in Pakistan. They have nothing to do with Denmark it turns out. Daanish is an Urdu word meaning smart. This particular school is named for Malala Yosafzai, though she seems to have no direct connection to the school.

The big beautiful school occupies 112 Acres and is laid out like a butterfly with the girls occupying one wing and the boys occupying the other. The facilities for girls and boys appeared to be identical in every observable respect.

The children must apply for admission to the school, essentially a middle school with sixth to eighth grades. The applicants must meet strict standards for a lack of resources as the school’s express aim is to educate the “poorest of the poor” to give them an opportunity to put poverty behind them. The students must also compete for slots and so are chosen by merit.

There are now 434 boys and 434 girls attending the school. Although the campuses share a plot of ground, a great wall separates the two campuses and the two groups of students never interact.

All of the students are boarded. A group of ten percent of the students pay for admission to the school and are not subject to the poverty test. They, including the children of faculty and staff who attend the school, also must agree to the boarding arrangements.

The school has only been open for three years to it is too soon to tell if the intended results will be achieved but the students were certainly there and apparently working hard. Free from the challenges of finding the next meal and the effects of malnutrition that would likely have been their lot prior to coming to the school, it is easy to believe that school should have the intended effect.

Most of the children at the school come from no more than about 100 miles of the school, though a few are from farther away.

The principal, Rafi Ud Din, fed us lunch, gave us a tour, provided us with some literature and sent us on our way. It was a fascinating detour from the polio agenda. Certainly there is more to be learned and written about the school, but I doubt I will make it back to this region. I certainly wish them well.

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