Pakistan: An unexpected side to the tough-looking man revealed in the field

When AAR staff member Tomohiko MORITA was to conduct training on sanitation and hygiene to a group of difficult-looking men, he surprisingly found that it was their beaming smiles that calmed his nerves the most. This is Morita’s report from one of these training courses. AAR operates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, situated in the region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan.

“Unimaginable”: Communication with the severe-looking men

What images come to mind when you think of a typical man from Afghanistan or Pakistan? Through the protracted conflict in Afghanistan and news about terrorist bombings by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, a cheerful face may not be the image you conjure up. Before I left for this post, I too was slightly anxious about what topics of conversation would best build rapport and understanding with the local people.

From December 2012, I began working in the AAR Pakistan office and have been providing educational support to the Afghani refugee children that live in and around the refugee camps. Along with maintaining the sanitation facilities in the classrooms, libraries, toilets and washrooms of the schools, we have been conducting training courses aimed at teachers and parents with the aim of having accurate hygiene information delivered from adults to the children. From April 2012 to September this year, 793 teachers and parents have participated in AAR’s sanitation training courses. 

The training courses are conducted over 4 days and are separated into courses for men and women. On the first day of a training course held in March, the group that gathered was made up of severe-looking men with magnificent beards. I had prepared a game of Chinese-whispers to allow the participants to realize the importance of communicating well-organized information, but was nervous about their willingness to even participate in a game

The unexpected reaction

However, as soon as the game began all the participants began to laugh and giggle and lean in closely to each other to pass on the secret messages. When the answers were revealed, the excitement in the small classroom had reached its peak and tenor cheers of “Yes!! That’s right!!” “No!! Totally wrong!!” vibrated throughout. The participants appeared to have genuinely enjoyed the game. I was surprised by the serious note taking and concentration that was displayed by participants, and the lively responses and raising of hands to AAR staff questions that was seen after the game.

Most of the participants of the training courses arrived to the camps as Afghani refugees and thus had not had the opportunity to learn at a school up until this point. The participants appeared to thoroughly enjoy the chance to gather together to learn something, just like in a class at school. The Afghani and Pakistani people I met turned my image of “a strict people with harsh faces” right on its head.

The men from the refugee camp enjoying a game of Chinese-whispers. A smile slips as the message is whispered into his ear. (26th March 2013)

Upon completion of the training, participants receive their certificates. Bursting smiles of the participants were on display. (15th March 2013) 

Let’s spread what we have learnt to the people of the region 

The results of the training program appear to be excellent. Mr Sahar Gul (pictured in photo to the right) works as a caretaker at a primary school. After evening prayers at his mosque, he used the time usually reserved for discussions on Islamic scriptures to talk for an hour about how to “Sterilize your water by boiling it before you drink” and spoke to approximately 80 people who had gathered for prayers about what he had learned in the training course. Similarly, the women who participated in the training courses for women have been sharing what they have learnt, such as how to get safe drinking water and how to clean your hands properly. They are doing this by word of mouth to women in the neighborhood who are unable to read or write and to friends who were unable to participate in the training courses.

Mr Sahar, after having received training in hand washing. By washing hands that have been painted, one can confirm whether the hands have been thoroughly washed. (28th March 2013)

Because I know the value of education 

The principal of a primary school located in the Afghani refugee camp, Mr Mohammad Qaseem, (pictured right, 55 years old) also attends the AAR training courses on sanitation. In 1979, due to the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet forces, Mr. Mohammad was forced to flee his homeland along with many others and seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. During the process of crossing the border, he lost his son to an infectious disease. He also had friends and relatives who were killed by the Soviet army and pro-Soviet Afghan soldiers. In the refugee camp where Mr. Mohammad and approximately 500 other families began their lives as refugees, it was a struggle for everyone just to have enough food. Presented with the reality that the majority of the children would grow-up without the opportunity to be educated, Mr. Mohammad started a small school in the refugee camp. He felt it was imperative to educate the children for the rebuilding of Afghanistan that had been devastated by a protracted civil war even after the withdrawal of Soviet forces.  Since then, for over 30 years Mr. Mohammad has dedicated himself to the spread of education. 

“Education at refugee camps” Students and Mr. Mohammad who continues to teach for 30 years. (6th August 2013)
Having started classes in the corner of his house, Mr. Mohammad is now principal of a primary school with over 1000 pupils and is a strong supporter of AAR Japan’s sanitation education activities. “Many people in the refugee camps have not had the opportunity to receive an education both back in Afghanistan and here. Prior to participating in AAR Japan’s sanitation training courses, they weren’t able to know the reasons behind diarrhea or typhoid”, explained Mr. Mohammad.

The eager attitudes of the participants reflect that training courses such as the one AAR Japan offers are one of the few available chances for education in refugee camps. AAR Japan will continue to support these people who enthusiastically work hard to improve their harsh lives, and who are passionately contributing to education. 

Tomohiko MORITA, Pakistan Office
After the completion of his Masters, he worked for a private company and then moved to Zimbabwe to work at Japanese Embassy for two years. From May 2012, he was responsible for the Kenya desk at AAR Japan headquarters in Tokyo. He has been working in Pakistan since December 2012 and is from Kanagawa Prefecture.