Pakistan Student Wins Grant to Promote Literacy
On a cold winter morning, 300 female students studying at a low-income school in Rawalpindi gathered in the school courtyard for an unexpected surprise. Volunteers from the nearby Fatima Jinnah Women University had brought them a mountain of books, gifts and educational prizes they had gathered as part of an ambitious book drive that received donations from over 300 university students.
The drive was initiated by Afza, an alum of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan. The successful project was a natural extension of Afza's community service experience as an exchange student at a child development center in Chadron, Nebraska as well as her passion for contributing towards basic education development in Pakistan.
With a population of nearly 177 million, Pakistan's literacy rate is only 56 percent. Due to the perceived high costs of education and low-quality of public schools, many children drop out after primary school, especially girls. The net enrollment ratio for female primary school participation is 60 percent, dropping to a dismal 29 percent in secondary school (UNICEF 2010). "The situation is miserable in public schools," says Afza. "They don't have enough chairs and desks, let alone a reading corner."
Therefore, when the Global UGRAD – Pakistan program began accepting applications for "Project Smile," a small grants competition, Afza grabbed the opportunity to organize a book drive for two low-income girls' schools in her hometown. "Eighty percent of preschool and after-school programs serving low-income populations in Pakistan have no age appropriate books for children," said Afza. "In all this information chaos and talk about social media, technology, we have ignored where we can find the most room for growth--the children in our society!"
Afza also wanted to use the Project Smile opportunity to encourage an attitude of "giving back" among her peers. In order to galvanize support among them, Afza partnered with Ms. Nigar Nazar, Pakistan's first female cartoonist who like Afza is a strong advocate for education in Pakistan.
Ms. Nazar spoke to the students at Afza's university about the importance of color and animation in education, and conducted an interactive cartoon show at the beneficiary schools after Afza and her team had distributed the books.
"The elite schools in Pakistan frequently invite Ms. Nazar for organizing cartoon shows on their campus but low-income public schools can never afford it. Through Project Smile, we were able to organize a free interactive learning cartoon show at two public schools here," explains Afza.
Afza hopes that the book drive will promote reading habits and encourage creative thinking among children and also promote interactive learning in Pakistan’s public schools. "I am passionate about the future of education in Pakistan and will continue to work with Ms. Nigar on educational outreach programs in Pakistan."