Rebuilding education network after Taliban driven out of Swat
28 June, 2012
LAHORE: A government operation to drive out militants has seen a gradual return to the classrooms in Swat where more than 400 schools were destroyed, 70 percent of them girls' schools, according to a report in The Guardian.
"In a rundown building in the mountain village of Sijban, girls sit at their desks, hair loosely covered in white or black scarves, staring raptly at their teacher. They say they want to become either doctors or teachers when they grow up. This is the one government primary school for girls in the Swat valley that was spared destruction by the Taliban," the paper reported.
"Their headteacher, Gul-e-Khandana, is no ordinary teacher – she stood up to the Taliban and managed to save the school where she had taught for more than 20 years," the report read.
Gul-e-Khandana said, "A group of Taliban arrived with kalashnikovs at the school building just before the school holidays in June 2008. I ran out and told them 'You will have to kill me first before you torch my school'. They called me a kaffir [non-believer] and said they would be back."
The Taliban had already destroyed the nearby girls' middle school so, fearing the worst, Gul-e-Khandana removed the furniture and school records to her home. The girls had already stopped coming to school. But Gul-e-Khandana was determined. She was denounced on the radio, which was controlled by the militants. Her neighbours stopped talking to her and her extended family broke off all ties.
When the military operation began to flush out the Taliban from Swat later that year, Gul-e-Khandana fled, smuggling the school records under her burka.
"Everyone thought I was crazy but I thought one day the Taliban will leave and we will re-open the school and the girls will come back. I wanted to keep the certificates and records," she said.
With the army operation completed, Gul-e-Khandana returned to Sijban in July 2009 and went straight to her school, according to The Guardian report.
"It was still standing! I was so delighted. I had feared the worst but out of the six classrooms only one room had been destroyed by mortar shells," it quoted Gul-e-Khandana as saying.
With the building more or less intact, she re-opened the school.
"Many of the girls were still too terrified to come back to school and I started a committee with the help of the army that went from one household to another to convince the parents to send their daughters back to school," said Gul-e-Khandana.
Today there are 262 pupils enrolled in her school, more than before the Taliban came to Swat, according to the report.
Other schools in the area, such as the middle school for girls in Shinkat, a village near the capital of Swat, were not so lucky. The school was completely destroyed by the Taliban in 2009, the paper reported.
Salma, 17, recalls the day it was attacked.
"It happened around 1 o'clock in the morning. I heard the blast. It made me very sad and I cried," she says.
Today, the paper reported, Salma is back at her newly constructed school in Shinkat and says she wants to be a doctor.
Her teacher, Shanaz, says that now the Taliban have left the valley, enrolment is increasing.
The Taliban destroyed more than 400 of the 1,576 schools in Swat.
"Seventy percent of them were girls' schools," recalls Ensaullah Khan, who serves on the board of the Sarhad rural support programme, an NGO that is helping to rebuild schools. "Then as the conflict with the government intensified they started destroying both boys' schools as well as girls' schools. It was a terrible time. How can you build a nation without education?"