25th April 2012
Having run the WF Foundation for a year or so I began to realise I wanted to do more than just donate funds to other charities; I wanted to get involved with a real project of our own, one we could take ownership of, and see through to a positive conclusion. And we settled on developing a tiny school in Northern Pakistan.
As Wild Frontiers was conceived in the rugged mountains of this remote and fascinating corner of the world, it seemed an apt place to begin. The region is poor with little or no governmental help and kids can grow to adults without ever seeing the inside of a classroom. Added to that I had a very reliable local guide, Atta, that knew the area, the locals and officials we’d need to deal with to get such a project off the ground, and all importantly wanted to help.
So Baleygon School it was. When I arrived for the first time it was immediately easy to see why Atta had chosen such a place. Although there was a school, it had only one teacher for 104 students, whose ages ranged from 4 to 16; there were only two small rooms and next to no useable furniture. Most of the time, the children simply sat on the floor while the stoic teacher did his best to give them a basic grounding in maths, Urdu, English and history. It was not easy.
Neither was instigating our revolutionary plan; as is usual in such circumstance, as soon as the locals got wind that Westerns and their deep pockets were moving into town things change. On first inspection we figured we needed to buy the land that fell immediately adjacent to the land the school now sat on. And while I was there, the landowner agreed to sell the land to a village trust at the correct rate. But needless to say as soon as I left, the price doubled. It took a further six months to source the owners of the land behind the school and get the deal done.
From there it has been relatively simple. Atta has returned a few times to deliver the funds that have now seen the school grow from two classrooms to five, to providing plumbed loos – a crucial ingredient if you want girls to attend – and to flatten the land for a playground.
Of course these things take longer than you’d like and I think it will be the end of the summer before we are ready to inaugurate the new classrooms, have all the furniture in place and the kids in their smart new uniform. In time we hope to get them connected to the internet and reporting live on our website how things in the Hushe Valley are. I can’t wait to get back out there this autumn.
Whilst we are committed to helping other projects in Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and Central Asia, I am delighted with how this first major project is developing and hope that it is the first of many. Your help would be greatly appreciated.