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School continues despite political instability

Despite being set against a backdrop of political instability and poverty, St Joseph’s Primary School in Mughalabad continues to be a caring and quality learning environment for its students, staff and their families.

Mughalabad is a settlement of mostly Christian families on the outskirts of Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan, near the capital Islamabad. Although a large number of Christian children live in the area only a small percentage attend school. But with support from Mercy Works and the efforts of Sister of Mercy, Anila Isaac, this situation is changing.

Since 2006, Anila has been working with the local community to achieve consistent class attendance. She has also been developing the efficiency of teaching staff by promoting ongoing education and vocational training.

The Mughalabad Project, as it is known, supports over 140 students, 7 teachers and about 250 families. According to Anila, since the project started, there has been success in the number of students attending school on a regular basis. This has been achieved by a combination of strategies.

“Firstly, contact with the parents and involvement of the parents over time in school activities. Also some sessions for women have been initiated in recent months to address the role they play in promoting a change in the environment.

“Secondly, the physical environment of the school has been upgraded. This has brought a sense of pride to staff and students, which in turn, has influenced the motivation for learning in the classroom.

Student participation in class projects has developed attractive classrooms because of work displays.

“Thirdly, the introduction of the afternoon classes has prepared children who have never been to school for their age appropriate level of entry. Afternoon classes also include tutoring for those students in the area who have no one to help them at home.”

Being able to access running water has been one of the most important developments for the school in the past year. “This has meant children have access to it at all times. Personal pride and classroom pride have both grown. Filtered drinking water is available.”

Anila acknowledges the effects on the community of poverty, minority religious affiliation and Pakistan’s general instability. “Each of these brings its own challenges,” she says.

“Families are often unconvinced of the need to send children to school, either primary or secondary, because of the lack of value placed on education in the country. The fact that this is an added expense is also a drawback.

“For the children, there is the difficulty of learning in a school situation when they often come from multi-challenged backgrounds. Language on its own is a huge stumbling block. Some students only speak local languages while the main language of the country is Urdu and the school is trying to teach English.

“The political situation in Pakistan has most people living very cautiously. On the days when conditions are really bad, the schools in the area are closed. Mostly places ‘shut down’ which means no one goes out of the house. The increase in food prices has put an extra burden on families, which in turn has an effect on school attendance. Children may not be able to be fed and so they cannot concentrate or the money for school is needed for food. However, as a community all are willing to support each other and work will continue to encourage education for all.”