Monday, December 19, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print

Teaching, learning amid the rubble

Seattle Times staff reporter; Seattle Times staff photographer

How to help the Bugna Village Complex

The Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle hopes to raise $1 million by next September for its Sister Village Project, with all donations to its Earthquake Relief Fund to go toward the project. Founded in the early 1990s, the association is primarily a social and cultural organization for the Puget Sound area's Pakistani Americans. Estimates vary on the community's size, from 1,400 according to the 2000 census, to 4,000 according to the association.

Donations to the fund are accepted at any local U.S. Bank branch. The association is applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

More information:

Some other groups doing relief work in Pakistan:

Human Development Foundation
1350 Remington Road
Suite W
Schaumburg, IL 60173

Mercy Corps
Earthquake Relief Fund
Dept. NR
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208

American Red Cross South Asia Earthquake Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013

World Vision
P.O. Box 70288
Tacoma, WA 98481

World Concern
19303 Fremont Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98133

P.O. Box 1870
Merrifield, VA 22116-9646

Northwest Medical Teams
P.O. Box 10
Portland, OR 97207

Save the Children
54 Wilton Rd.
Westport, CT 06880

Pakistan earthquake toll: Many victims were children

When the earthquake struck on the morning of Oct 8, many students had just begun classes. They were trapped under rubble when buildings collapsed.

Estimated death toll: Between 73,000 and 86,000

Number of children who died: Estimates vary from 17,000 to half the total number of deaths.

Schools destroyed or damaged: About 10,000 in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir, near the epicenter.

Sources: Pakistan government's Federal Relief Commission, Los Angeles Times, Indo-Asian News Service

Second of three parts

BUGNA, Pakistan — Two of his young students had died. Others had lost relatives and homes. Their schoolhouse was damaged — and was suddenly a scary place.

The October earthquake that leveled almost every structure in this remote mountain village left principal Raja Yasir Iqbal's grade-school building standing, but no longer safe to use.

Iqbal would have to find class space elsewhere, make do without textbooks and figure out how to talk to traumatized children about their sadness and fears.

That his school in Bugna reopened within about a month in donated fabric shelters, as did surrounding village schools, is a testament to the value placed on education by parents wanting more for their children than the hardships of village life.

While the quake brought new struggles for many villagers, it did not dampen the ambitions of at least some rural children.

"I want to become a doctor and serve the people who are helpless," said 12-year-old Marukh Saeed, whose favorite subject is English.

Iqbal's school is in a cluster of eight heavily damaged Himalayan villages that have been adopted by the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle, which is raising money for shelter, clothes and other supplies for some 8,000 villagers.

There are about 25 schools in the villages, including a co-ed high school, a middle school for girls, three middle schools for boys and numerous grade schools. Some are run by the government, some by villagers who pool their money, and some — such as Iqbal's READ Foundation School in Bugna — are private.

Iqbal's school is one of a network of 323 rural schools in Pakistan operated by the READ — for Rural Education and Development — Foundation. Based in Islamabad, it says that nearly one-third of Pakistani children ages 5 to 9 do not go to school. The foundation's goal is to enroll them.

Slightly built and with sandy hair, the 25-year-old Iqbal wrings his hands as he pleads his case to anyone who might help. "I worry about my school, the people of my area who suffered," he said. "We have so many problems to restart schools."

More than 100 READ buildings were destroyed or damaged in the quake, and 14 of the foundation's teachers and 645 of its students were killed. Some parents who could afford it moved to cities such as Islamabad for shelter and to continue their children's education.

READ principals met to discuss what to do, deciding to resume classes as quickly as possible to stem the attrition and return a sense of normalcy to students.

At Iqbal's school, on the first day back, teachers encouraged children to talk about their experiences and problems. Some who had lost loved ones talked of finding bodies in the rubble of their homes. Many children were at school when the quake struck and were afraid to return.

Teachers turned to Islam to comfort them. "We told them: The earthquake is from God, and not because you were in school," Iqbal said. "It may be because of our sins. You could say it's to test us."

And, they instructed, "If you help one another, God will help you in this disaster."

Now, classes are being held in two fabric buildings donated and erected last month by Alaska Structures, a Northwest-based company that's working with the Pakistan Association to provide shelter and clothing for four schools in the villages, including Iqbal's.

To get to school, students walk each day — sometimes several miles — up and down steep terrain.

Jawad Mumtaz, who's 5, walks a mile by himself, even though one of his legs is slightly shorter than the other. "When I am walking, I am quite OK," he says, although he admits walking downhill hurts a little.

For most READ students, tuition, books and supplies cost $50 a year. Iqbal worries that some families may not be able to afford the additional $5 per student to replace textbooks buried in the quake. So students are sharing books, and teachers are holding more group discussions.

At Bugna's Government High School, students also talk about their lost textbooks.

"I dug out with my hands some books: Arabic, Urdu, English, science," said 15-year-old Waqar Ayub.

When the quake struck, students at the high school were taking midterm exams outdoors where there was room to spread out. In classrooms, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder, three to a desk, making it easy to cheat.

Now, classes are being held in some of the less damaged classrooms, outside on benches set on the dirt, and in the shelters from Alaska Structures.

Zeshan Shabir, 14, has been studying for exams he must pass in March to go on to the next grade. His family is encouraging him to do so even though his father, the only wage earner for the family of 10, died in the quake.

"Without a father, it is difficult to live because there is no person to earn," Shabir said. "I will help my mother. She is helpless."

The quake has created other obstacles as well. On a recent rainy day, only 22 of 284 students made it to Bugna's Government Girls' Middle School.

Because most families are staying in tents, they must cook meals on fires built outdoors. But they can't make fires to cook breakfast in the rain.

"They cannot come to school hungry" since students do not eat again until they return home in the afternoon, said Shahida Qummar, the school's 35-year-old headmistress.

Qummar wept when she awoke that morning and saw rain, her mind racing with thoughts: "Before the earthquake, I had a good kitchen. It was good through rain, snow. I could make breakfast. Now I make breakfast outside. But some people lost a child. I didn't. So I was weeping: 'Thank God my children are safe.' "

She walked 45 minutes to open the school that day, knowing few would make it in.

"Girls' education is a must," Qummar said. "Man educates just for himself. Girls' education is for everybody because woman teaches family."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


Get home delivery today!