Word spreads fast in the close-knit community of Turkmen in Attock. I called an impromptu meeting of the parents for an orientation to BLISS, and an hour later, found about 20 eager Turkmen fathers waiting in the courtyard of the Barakat Elementary School.
As I stepped out on the school verandah and took a seat facing the men, I was flanked by Barakat staff – Sumera Sahar, the Barakat Country Coordinator, Shazia Bukhari, the school principal, and Abdul Rehman, our community liaison and a Turkmen himself. I can’t honestly say I was not slightly intimidated. These were mostly older, bearded men with stern faces. But as I introduced myself and the BLISS initiative with a confidence that was part-feigned, the faces softened—some breaking into smiles. Soon, the men were eager to know more. ‘When is the first class?’ ‘Who can attend?’ ‘What will the children learn?’
Halfway through my spiel, the community elder, Abdul Jabbar, a middle-aged man clad in crisp white shalwar qameez and a beautiful Afghan chaadar, joined us and the men rose to their feet. I quickly repeated myself, and found him nodding enthusiastically. Apparently, he had heard about BLISS months earlier, when I had communicated the details to Abdul Rehman from Boston. When I finished, he faced the men, speaking in Turkmen. I reflexly turned to Abdul Rehman with a quizzical expression. He told me Abdul Jabbar was instructing the men to send their children to school so they could benefit from the program, and to spread the word in the community.
“This will be very good for our children”, he told me later. “The carpet business is not doing well, and we are sick of it. It is very hard work and we don’t earn much. This is a way for our children to learn a new skill and also get educated.”
I smiled in concurrence, excited that Abdul Jabbar was able to rephrase our mission in a single, eloquent sentence.