Ibn Batuta Community School Kosht

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Kosht, 13 October 2002.

Dear friends,

After about six months, finally some more news from us.  Time flies, and that's because we hardly stop working here!  But let's start where the last newsletter ended.

When we arrived in Islamabad in February we purchased the textbooks for class 2 and class 8, which we sent by air to Chitral.  Due to this year's harsh winter, they took several months to reach...  But reaching they did.  Back in Kosht in March, we held many meetings with the Society members, which resulted in hiring a plot of land adjacent to the river and tot the main road (half an hour less by jeep).

 In the meantime, we would shift the school to an empty house (4 rooms...) nearby.  The rough construction of the 8 rooms (5m x 6m) would be provided for by the society; we would finance the finishing (which has to be interpreted broadly: ceilings, doors, windows, roof, floor etc.).

Then started the search for a house for ourselves, which wasn't easy, maybe due to the fact that we were a bit spoiled last year.  Anyhow we found a house with nice owners and a wonderful view.

Our enemies had of course made use of our absence in winter time to launch more gossips, but this was of no avail.  Yet we lost 14 students (also due to the shifting), which was highly compensated by the admission of 42 new faces.

As decided, the rough construction started in April: 8 rooms (5m x 6m) under supervision of the Society.  The aim of this was to involve the people in the school matters and to convince them that this project is theirs. 

This was partly successful: from the beginning we had to advance money but here money always comes late, and the construction had to go on.

Today €300 on a total of €1500 is lacking from their side; this is being repaired gradually and, although the deficit is limited, we are strict on such issues and demand them to pay back this debt.  A word is a word!

In the meantime, classes were held in small dark rooms, totally unfit for school.  But what to do?  It was still better than nothing.  And one thing is sure: the children are happy to come to us. 

Proof of this is a father's reaction to the progress report of May: underneath the report and letter (and we have some more of these: come and visit and you'll see it yourself!).

In May and June, the tensions between Pakistan and India surfaced again, and this time succeeded in making our life a bit more difficult.  Though being once more mostly confined to media violence, with nothing to be seen up here, our opponents jumped upon the opportunity to corrupt the local police, which subsequently tried to make us leave.  Insecurity, they said.  Quite strange indeed, because the other foreigners in Chitral didn't even hear about any unsafe situation.  We didn't care too much and didn't move an inch, partly because our baby was knocking on the door.

 He came on the 21st of June, in our own house, without any complications.  Welcome to Milan!  Now we are four Belgians in Chitral.

The construction went on.  Although we preferred a traditional mud roof, we were more or less forced to opt for tin sheets instead.  These are more expensive and considered to be a must by the Society.  The insulation power of these sheets is much less than that of a mud roof, but the latter requires continuous maintenance to prevent leakage, and as such is not ideal for a school with library and computer class...

Till today the construction cost amounts to Rs.315726.  The final price for the 8 rooms is estimated at Rs.350000, or about €6000.  €1500 or 25% will be provided by the community.

The first week of August we finally moved into our new building.  There still weren't any ceilings, but who cared?  Not a single school in the whole area has such big rooms, which are well lit (every class has a skylight of 1m x 1.5m), and all are pleased.

But it seems as if this year just cannot be easy, and has to be full of unpleasant events.  Pakistan is in a crisis, and Chitral too gets its part.  In Lower Chitral (in the Kalash Valleys), a friend of our was killed in August.  Probably a robbery with murder.  We felt quite shocked but yet not threatened: our friend led quite an epicurean life, not at all conventional, and as such quite different from ours.  This as well as the tensions in the South of the country (attacks on churches, mosques, schools, hospitals,...) had as result that the local government decided to allot a guard to all foreigners.  We received five of them...

A poisoned gift, because the police in Pakistan has a reputation to live up to...  Which they obviously did: in no time, half the village wanted to oust us because of the troubles the police inflicted upon them.  Nearly all people here are poorly educated, and see things quite simply: the police is here because of the foreigners.  Foreigners out, police out, problems out...  At present, the troubles seem to have vanished though, probably thanks to (two!) interventions of our Embassy.  Now the police are camping in a field just down our house and are supposed to prepare their food themselves, so the burden on the villagers' shoulders should be minimal (who themselves hardly have enough food).

In between a ray of hope: the Primary School has been registered in the start of August, under the auspicious number Chitral-1.  We are also fortunate to have some promising students in Class 6 (new students, since we don't have class 5 yet), and we could ascertain again that our work was appreciated reading the remarks on the progress reports of August.

This week we start the registration of the Middle School (classes 6, 7, 8) under the new name: Ibn Batuta Community School Kosht.  'Community' instead of 'Public', to emphasize the difference between our school and the other Public schools which have been established with profit in mind.  In March 2003 the High School will be started (class 9, in 2004 class 10 too).

What else is in the pipeline?

  1. We need to order the books for the new classes: €1000
  2. Furniture for 50 students: €1500
  3. Science lab: €1500
  4. We would like to finish the construction in one go (a total of 20 rooms; 8 have been completed; 12 more; estimated cost one and a half times the first cost): €9000
  5. Jeep rent: €200 monthly; €1200 for 6 months

Total planned expenditure: €14200 Available: € 5303.65

So it is clear: your support is still required!  Many small things make a big one, and in this way we already achieved quite something !

The people here are quite proud of their new school, in the construction of which they participated .  Our aims have been achieved:  a kernel of local people have committed themselves to such an extent that they will not separate from the project anymore.  This is what's really important, because we needed some more strong local shoulders to ensure continuity in case of our (forced) departure.

At present the school is not ready to be left alone yet, but some important steps have been taken.  The school's own building rose out of the ground, and for the land a very democratic monthly rent of about €20 has to be paid (this does not create financial problems).  The society has be reinforced with some important new members, but still more work has to be done.  The number of teachers too has risen, and recently we had the good fortune to find a teacher able of teaching science in the higher classes too (a scarce commodity over here!).

Dear people, it would gladden us if you would not leave us and would continue your support.  This school must become successful, and for this your cooperation is required!

Warm regards,

Wendy, Jürgen, Yuval and Milan.

 

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