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
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
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.