Ibn Batuta Community School Kosht

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In September 2000, Ibn Batuta Educational Society Kosht was established with as sole purpose the owning and managing of Ibn Batuta Community School Kosht, a non-profit community school which had to uplift the quality of the education in the area.

The inauguration of the school by the DC of Chitral, October 2000.
The inauguration of the school by the DC of Chitral, October 2000.

March 15th 2001 Ibn Batuta Community School Kosht was opened; more specifically the 6th and 7th classes were started.  The harsh climatic conditions allow the younger ones to start 2 weeks later.  

We started with five students.  It was the beginning of what would be a difficult year, at times quite depressing even.  During our absence in winter the Mullahs had been leading a frenetic campaign against the school of the alleged "foreign devils", or the alleged "Christian missionaries".

Shamsuddin teaching under the trees

The mistrust was big, in this village of illiterate people where whatever the Mullah proclaims becomes the truth.  Not only did they make our intentions doubtful (plenty of ridiculous lies), but they were also threatening of excommunication anyone who would admit his child(ren) to the school, or visit us!  

Such a reaction is to some extent understandable: the power of the religious leaders is automatically reduced when the population becomes more educated and independent.  Indeed, in remote villages someone is called a Mullah when he is having a long beard and preaching in the mosques on Friday!  Unfortunately real religious scholars are hard to find.  They have nothing to fear from education. 

Fida, our Master in Islamiat, teaching social studies to class 6

Hardly anyone in our village masters the Arabic language which is needed to grasp the meaning of the Qur'an.  One of our teachers, a master in Islamic studies and in Arabic, knows more (and more accurately) about Islam than anyone in Kosht, but still it is said that the school is diffusing a Christian teaching!

And of course the people here are extremely conservative.  So it shouldn't surprise anyone that we only had two girls in the school!  Girls (and boys as well) are preferably sent to the madrasa (quranic schools, free of charge, where only religious classes are held). 

And how did the public schools of the region react?  In a negative way of course.  The founders of these institutions are usually only attracted by financial gains or by the extra prestige which the opening of a new school brings to its owner.  The quality of the provided education is only of secondary importance and as such investments for the betterment of the school are restricted to a minimum.

So it is quite understandable that these people were not exactly happy when our school was established.  Now they are obliged to improve their own schools, since otherwise they will loose many students!

Siyar with some of our smallest students

This doesn't disturb us; one of our goals is to uplift all schools in the area, by showing them an example and by cooperation.  But our intentions are not well received; they imply too much effort, too many changes.  Nevertheless at least one school has proven that it is not impossible to improve, and has extended its building, and asked for help in getting educational resources.  And one thing is sure: if all children would go to school, there wouldn't be enough place in the present schools (as mentioned before: there is no compulsory school attendance in Pakistan).

Another problem was caused by our landlord, who did not prove to be the benefactor whom he pretended to be.  He hadn't repaired the building nor constructed even a single toilet; a situation which did not improve during the year to come.  The people of Kosht distrusted him from the very beginning, and considered the school to be his school since run in his premises.  We nevertheless gave the school from the very beginning complete independence, but the villagers did not have trust in that.

Moreover the climatic conditions were very bad too.  For the third consecutive year, a terrible drought struck the whole area.  Crops shriveled months before harvest time, springs dried up, cattle had to be slaughtered.  This substantially cut down the available financial resources, which are required if children want to attend public (paying) schools like ours...

Due to all these factors, the number of students admitted in our school did not rise above forty, while we expected to welcome about a hundred.  This of course seriously limited the available financial resources required for the good functioning of the school (teacher salaries, paper, chalk, toner for printing...).

In October 2001 we descended to Islamabad to get a two year visa extension.  Due to the high efficiency of the bureaucracy, we (only!) had to wait one month to have this stamped in our passports.  During our stay, we came to know that the landlord had decided to 'borrow' one of the school's computers!  Once back in Chitral, we recovered that PC immediately, but also became convinced that the school could not continue like this: we had to cut ties with feudal lords, since even today the common people are helpless and defenseless in front of them.  We paid a substantial amount of rent for the year we had passed in Torkosht, and shifted the school for some months to our teacher's house, the day after our Belgian guests had gone (a team of journalists from the Flemish television).

The staff with our Belgian guests

Before leaving for winter holidays, we had some essential meetings with parents and leading people of the village.  They promised to try to raise sufficient funds for the rough construction of eight rooms the following spring.  What happened the following spring you can read on the next page: Shifting to Sandragh.

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© Wendy&Jürgen 13-Apr-2004

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