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Education called vehicle of change for girls and boys

No bathrooms. No buses. Just one teacher for between 70 and 200 schoolchildren—mostly boys—crammed into a single room that lacks air conditioning and order.

Aabira Sher Afgan says these are just some of the unfortunate realities of education in Pakistan.

Sher Afgan, a D.C.-based freelance consultant specializing in education and international development, spoke at a Stafford Rotary lunch meeting Wednesday about the obstacles Pakistani children, particularly girls, face in trying to get an education.

For students, Sher Afgan said, formal and nonformal education are instrumental “vehicles of empowerment.”

For a nation, an investment in education can spur economic growth and is one of the strongest tools in countering violent extremism. She cited a statistic that 48 percent of the Pakistani population lives on less than $1.25 per day.

Sher Afgan outlined cultural attitudes that disadvantage Pakistani girls.

“Many consider the education of girl children a ‘waste of resources’ that can be used for the males because they are the ones to carry on the lineage,” she said.

Sher Afgan also discussed various obstacles the Pakistani government faces in bringing education to its children and ways Rotary International has helped.

Sher Afgan, who was president of the Islamabad Metropolitan chapter of Rotary International in 2008–09, initiated an agreement with the Pakistani government to increase girls’ access to education.

The Rotary chapter did so by “adopting” female students and providing them with materials so parents wouldn’t feel pressured to pick which children get scarce funds.

The chapter also adopted Uppra Gurha School, a primary and secondary school, where they installed a computer lab and other school necessities.

Sher Afgan encouraged Stafford Rotarians to help children

in Pakistan reach their potential by sponsoring students as the Rotary club in Islamabad continues to do today.

Carol Foley, vocational service chair for the club, said that securing a partnership with the club in Pakistan would be one of the first steps in doing so.

Sher Afgan said the country’s cultural attitudes can shape girls into determined women.

“A Pakistani girl’s survival instincts begin on day one, but that brings them resilience. It makes her strong in her heart, her resourcefulness, her convictions and her commitments,” Sher Afgan said. “And that is where change begins.”

Dawnthea Price: 540/374-5403