A Teacher’s Perspective: Salima

“A British Teacher’s experience in KEF school”

Salima Begum’s story

Who would have thought when I was sitting comfortably at home one Sunday in front of the TV with my family in Blackburn that what they were watching would take me to the other side of the world and back. I think I was in the middle of chatting to my mother about something when my father asked me to keep quiet for a moment. He was watching a Pakistani TV channel and listening to Chairman KEF about some educational project in Pakistan, I started to listen and got interested too.

One of the panel described how this school in a remote village was successfully helping children whose mother tongue was Pahari and who came from disadvantaged families to achieve excellent results. As the programme went on my discussion with mum and dad took what turned out to be the most dramatic turn which changed my life. Without much thought to what I was saying I came out with “I wouldn’t mind going to Pakistan to help out”. To my surprise my father took me up on that and said “I think that is a very good idea. After all you are a qualified teacher now”.

That was it. The conversation became serious. We all started throwing out ideas and the possibilities began to take some shape in my mind.

“I could go and visit my family’s ancestral home, I could learn a great deal more about Pakistani culture, I could improve my Urdu”.

“You could find a nice husband” said my mother in and amongst all those ideas being thrown around. “Hold on. What’s this about finding a husband? You know how I feel about that. I’ve told you I’m not ready yet. Forget it. I’m not going I said and started to walk away.”

“All right, all right” placated my mum after she realised she had said the wrong thing. “I was only thinking of your future beti (dear daughter). I only want you to be happy that’s all.”

To cut a long story short we eventually got back to discussing possibilities and practical options. I decided to ring and talk to the group of experts in the studio. Have you ever tried to ring during a live programme? What a waste of time. I just could not get through. The telephone lines were all jammed and I gave up.

A few days later my dad said “Have you found out about going to Pakistan?” I had not. He encouraged me to write to the KEF and send my CV. Soon after I did KEF invited me for an interview at a local venue. The interviewer told me how he got involved in KEF activities and how much personal satisfaction he was getting out of his work with KEF. The more he spoke about the children and their families and the curriculum and staff development work, the more excited I got. It sounded too good to be true.

My father and I talked about all the difficulties and the challenges on the way back in the car but eventually I resolved to go ahead. We made all the preliminary preparations with the help of the KEF. Having got everything we were ready to go. I say we because my father had decided to go with me so that he can reassure himself with working arrangements and conditions. He wanted to make certain that I ‘his precious daughter’ was safe. My parents have always been very supportive and things were no different on this occasion. They care and I appreciate that.

We took a flight from Manchester to Islamabad and were received at the airport by the Chief Executive Officer, together with the Director of KEF Institute of Teacher Education in Pakhowal. The reception was very warm. My father and I were very well looked after. We were introduced to the chairman of KEF. He kept introducing us to everyone we met as the product of the TV campaign in UK. He was so proud of the fact that I was the first UK born UK qualified teacher with a PGCE whose parents hail from Pakistani administered Kashmir.

Everyone we met in the first few days was made aware of the fact that I had volunteered my professional services. People were so kind. I was humbled by all the compliments and I enjoyed making a real contribution. All my efforts were so well received by my colleagues that I felt valued.

The Principal at Soan Valley Public School and I hit it off right from the start. She encouraged me so much in all my work. We discussed ways of maximising my input for those beautiful children and devised ways of helping the other local staff without imposing myself on them.

I spent six wonderfully fulfilling months with KEF competent experienced teachers. During this period I went to Pearl Valley Public School in Rawalakot where I was given the opportunity to explore aspects of this wonderful country rich in history. I visited many places including Muree, Lahore, Hasan Abdal, Islamabad, the salt mines of Khewra, ancient historical sites of Taxila and a number of other unspoilt beauty spots in Pakistan which the normal tourists never gets to see. I have made some wonderful friends. I intend to keep in touch with them. The families we visited were full of warmth and extraordinary hospitality. I shall always be grateful to KEF for making such an important impact on my life and for bringing about a sea change in my attitude towards Pakistan and Pakistanis.

When I arrived in Pakistan the KEF team was putting finishing touches to the new school building in Basali village. They had already made a start with the first intake of children. The new building is very impressive and is situated only 35 Kilometres from Islamabad off the GT Road. I’m glad that I decided to stay in Soan Valley although I know I would have been equally happy to work in Pearl Valley School too.

I thoroughly enjoyed being with those wonderful children. I learnt so much. It was a rewarding and an inspiring experience of a life time. I’m so glad I saw the TV programme on KEF. Pakistan is a wonderful country – and those precious children. They are so keen to learn. English is their third language, after Punjabi and Urdu. There were two main reasons I decided to undertake this trip. Firstly to further my teaching experience and add an international dimension to my work. The second reason was that having been brought up in England and hearing my parents talk about Pakistan, I wanted to find out more about my cultural roots. I most certainly achieved that and much, much more besides. I would recommend it to anyone. It was just great.

I was asked to write my story in order to inform other postgraduate and locally qualified teachers and encourage them to follow my example and volunteer. I am so very glad that I’ve had this wonderful opportunity to broaden my horizon and work with such dedicated and committed people. They often speak of sharing a vision. I went along with the idea at first but now I can say that I’ve experienced what it feels like to be part of that vision. I’ve been empowered by it. I’ve been enlightened by it and I have certainly been humbled by it. I want to thank everyone who made it possible for me and I want to thank God that I have such wonderful and supportive parents.

When I read the aims and objectives of KEF I know that this is not just pie in the sky but an extraordinary achievement translated into ground reality. One cannot help applauding the considerable amount of effort by a dedicated and committed group of people to establish these schools for the neglected majority in rural Pakistan. The seed has been sown and slowly but surely it is growing. I am very glad that I was able to make a small contribution towards establishing and developing an excellent educational provision for the disadvantaged rural families and communities so that they may achieve their potential in life, create opportunities for themselves, their families, their communities and their country towards better things – become leaders of the future whilst improving the quality of life for everyone. That’s why if anyone asks me for my opinion about making a personal contribution or supporting KEF in whatever way they can I’d say without any hesitation – GO FOR IT.