FATA families defy Taliban to educate children

PESHAWAR: Students from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are taking active steps to foil the Taliban's efforts to render them illiterate.
Since 2008, militants have waged an endless attack on the region's schools, leaving more than 200,000 students without a safe place to learn, Bajaur Political Agent Syed Abdul Jabbar Shah said.
But students, and their parents, are learning to adapt.
"We are compelled to send away our children to schools in Peshawar and elsewhere because of the Taliban's persistent campaign against education in FATA," Bajaur Agency resident Muhammad Shaukat told Central Asia Online. "Otherwise, our children would grow up to be monsters, which is exactly what the Taliban want."

Though the prospect of sending children to more-distant schools addresses the concern, it's not always an easy choice.
"It was a hard decision to send them [to schools] away ... but there was no option as we have to educate them," said Shaukat, a truck driver with sons ages 6, 8, and 10. He sent them to study in Peshawar after it became clear that local schools had become too vulnerable to the Taliban.
Shaukat's family is not alone, as many others have opted to send their children to schools in safer places.
"Sending away my 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter from home is extremely difficult, but we have no option," North Waziristan resident Saqib Shah said, adding that "Taliban militants have drawn widespread condemnation from the tribal population."
Sacrifices made
Attending schools outside their home villages puts a strain on everyone involved. Mohammad Gohar, Shaukat's oldest son, detests the Taliban for what they have done.
"We are enduring a nightmarish situation," he said of the Taliban's efforts to deprive FATA children of an education. "We are committed to study and thwart the Taliban's attempts."
"My two younger brothers desperately miss our parents and remain homesick," he said, "but we are ready to pay this price and become educated." Shahid Khan, 7, another student in Gohar's school, admitted to getting homesick sometimes, but he said those feelings abate when he focuses on his studies.
"I have not seen my mother for the last three months," Khan said. "But I finished in first place on my quarterly tests, which is enough to make my parents happy."
And the students can lean on each other to get through the tough times because many are in the same situation, he said, estimating that he is one of about 80 tribal students in his school.
Aside from feeling homesick, many of the students are too young to live without the help of their parents, particularly their mothers, Karim Gul, assistant warden at the Haji Sahib Turangzai Hostel at the Islamia Collegiate School in Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.
"Many of the FATA students have faced hardships, especially when they get sick," he said. "Some of the children have developed psychological problems, but the parents remain steadfast and support them by visiting now and then."
The children also are missing out on life back home, Jalaluddin, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, told Central Asia Online.
They are missing social events, such as engagements, marriages and other festive occasions, he said. - Central Asia Online

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