Ibn Batuta Community School Kosht

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Booni is situated in Chitral Valley in Northern Pakistan (NWFP).  By chance we discovered this village one evening of October 1996, since our jeep just happened to stop its journey there.  The next day we were offered a teaching job in the village's most renowned community school.  At first we decided to stay there for two months, but we ended up staying a year.

A year full of discoveries!  An unknown culture unveiled itself a little, still keeping some mysteries though.  Besides teaching Math and Science, we also specialized in picnics, hikes and treks with our students.  These outings not only gave as the opportunity to learn more about local customs and habits, but also allowed us to open the minds of our students and to broaden their look upon the world.  The friendships made at that time still exist today.

Class 3 in Booni (1997)

Pamir Public School Booni (PPS) was established in 1992, and received its first Principal from VSO (a Dutch-British NGO).  His work was appreciated by all, except by those who hold the power in Booni, and who will also be the cause of our troubles later on.  The man kept on fighting for two years, after which he left the place.  Since then VSO has not returned to PPS.

The presence of foreigners is nevertheless essential for PPS: many parents are convinced that without their presence the school isn't run in a proper way.  So the Board of Governors (BOG) called upon another British NGO, Project Trust.  PT sends young high school graduates out in the world for a year of experience-gathering.  These 18 year olds are actually not ready for the job they get in PPS, but at least they keep the parents happy. 

Booni is a feudal village with a majority of Ismaelis, where the leaders (politically strong men, usually rich and nearly all from the same family) enjoy misusing their power and hold on to it very tightly.  The construction of PPS was mainly financed by them, and the management is entirely in their hands.  They don't really appreciate any help which makes the common people more independent.  As such the school will never be able to cooperate properly with any NGO really willing to help to develop the whole area (instead of benefiting the elite only).  This we came to understand only later on...

In September 1996, due to a visa problem, PPS didn't have any foreigners.  So, two months after the start of the 2nd session, the BOG was only too happy to appoint the three foreigners who by chance stopped in the village.  Unfortunately for them, we and our Australian friend were quite a bit more mature than the PT boys, and as such not that easily exploitable.

In March 1997, we transformed the existing closed little cupboard of books into a real library.  Till then the key of the cupboard had been with a teacher, and most of the few books had found their way to various new owners (books donated by foreigners passing by).

Wendy in class 9 (june 1997)

We wanted to open a whole new world of knowledge to the children, and after collection of an initial sum of €250 in Belgium, we bought hundreds of books (and more later).  All of them were classified according to the internationally accepted system, every reader got a card with membership number and every book its own number.  With this method, registration of borrowings became efficient.

All the library tasks were delegated to a team of students: two of all three highest classes.  Like this, every year two new librarians are being trained by the older ones.  This system also perfectly fits into the local culture, where the older ones get more responsibilities.

The success was astonishing!  Even after a full year, with on average 10% of the students getting a book daily, not a single book had been lost.  And some of the students were getting a broader knowledge than their teachers.  Maybe the danger of such a situation was also understood by some of the local potentates?

When the new PT boys arrived, the BOG tried to dismiss us before the natural end of our agreement, but they failed.  So in November 1997 we left Booni, leaving many good memories and friends behind.

In August 1998 we came back for some long treks, and reapplied explaining our determination to remain in the school for several years.  PPS suffers a lot because teachers come and go like if the school is a pigeonry.  Our offer was rejected though, to be accepted a year later, in June 1999.  The Chairman of the BOG had been replaced by a broad-minded and progressive man who really wanted to improve education at PPS.  Appreciating our past efforts and continuous contributions to the library, he gladly reappointed us.  

The library back in 1998

We went of visiting many NGOs and embassies on the search for funds, but got only one positive reply (most donors are only interested in big projects).  The Finnish embassy was impressed by the success of our library, and donated €4000 to extend it substantially.  

In December, our visa expired and we were requested to collect our new working visa at Delhi.  Since the winter holidays were coming soon anyway, we were granted leave from the Chairman.

Unfortunately the political situation in Booni changed again at the end of that very same month, and the former Chairman took over again.  The first decision was to remove us...  Wendy got sacked first, and when we had returned in March 2000, Jürgen got sacked by the Principal during a lapse of reason, who doing so brought the BOG in difficulties.

During the next four months we tried to find a peaceful settlement with the BOG, but this was of no avail.  In august 2000, we left Booni and our library without any hard feelings, knowing the books were (and are) in good hands (the student's hands).   The people and students both appreciated our work, which is what mattered after all.


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