Monday, 26 March 2012

Not quite meeting the Pakistani cricket team

I'm currently in Islamabad in Pakistan working for the British Council on an education advocacy project with a group of six young people from the UK and 20 young people from Pakistan who are the steering group for a project called IlmPossible.

There was a recent update of the Pakistani constitution which added in Article 25a which guarantees the right to free state education for all children aged 5-16. The trouble is that the delivery of this is down to provincial governments and many people simply don't know that it is a right. Many others are discouraged from taking up their right or don't believe that education is important. The IlmPossible group exists to publicise and campaign for this right to be taken up.

We want to share our experiences and help them as well as learn from them and put together a joint UK-Pakistan project which can run in parallel in both countries.

I'll write more about the project itself at a later date, but the highlight of the first training day was a visit (just an hour we were told) to an event where members of the Pakistani cricket team were meeting groups of orphans who had been taking part in a sports week.

I don't know what we were expecting, but it certainly wasn't 2800 children aged 4-8 from all over Pakistan who have all been given the opportunity to take part in a variety of sports based activity and this week has been the end of programme event where they all came together to play against each other.

The idea behind this, as explained to us by one of the organisers, is that these children can easily feel that they are marginalised by society. They are certainly some of the most socially disadvantaged in any society. The programme manager also said that an additional fear is that some might turn to the extremists and become the next generation of terrorists and suicide bombers. Making sure they engage in education and social activities is one way to encourage them to feel part of society and make the best of themselves as well as to lessen the chances of them being drawn into extremism.

From a start with just a single child, the organisation has grown in quick time to the 2800 that were present today (last year there were 1300).

It was fantastic to watch as they received their trophies and medals, to talk to them and to the organisers about the project. (It was just a pity that they were so clued up about the relative merits of the Pakistani and English cricket teams in the recent test series!)

The star guests at the event were members of the Pakistani cricket team. Unfortunately, they arrived after we had to go. We held on and held on with the promise that they would meet us for a photo. Unfortunately, when the time came, they didn't make it over to us for the photo as the local media were engulfing them. (But given that they were there to see the children, that's probably fair enough.)

Hugely enjoyable and I learned a lot. I would hope that this sort of project is something that the UK foreign aid budget would invest in. A scheme which provides education for a marginalised group and has the additional specific aim of reducing the danger of the young people being radicalised is surely a good investment.

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