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,
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
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
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
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 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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