Slowly but surely, BLISS is becoming an integral part of the girls’ school day. Every time I hear stories about them from the teachers, I long to be able to spend more time in Attock. Getting to know the girls and their families. Learning to see the world from their eyes. I adhere to the philosophy that the poor are the best experts on poverty. Often, well-meaning individuals and organizations try to give them solutions that they want them to need, not solutions they actually need. Amy Smith, founder of the International Development Initiative at MIT, explained this pervasive trend with a nice analogy as I sought advice from her on BLISS last spring. She spoke of an argarian community, where well-settled farmers might be higher on the productivity and income scale than they would be if they transitioned to service-oriented jobs. While basic education could improve their quality of lives by teaching them about better farming practices, sanitation and hygiene, putting them through college and making doctors and engineers out of them might not necessarily do the same. She said there’s a widely-held belief that in order to stop poverty, we must find ways to get people to stop being farmers. Really, what we need to do is find ways to stop them from being poor farmers.
I like how she put it. But I digress.
As a way to stay connected to the girls in Attock, as well as provide a fun, educational outlet for them, we are in the process of starting the BLISS Buddy program (Sana Kazmi, our resident catchy-phrase comer-upper, calls it the BLISS Baaji program), where the girls will write letters to one of us they’ll be paired with, introducing themselves, talking about their lives and everyday activities, what they are learning through BLISS, sharing pictures, and generally staying in touch.
As a precursor to the letter writing, we got pictures and introductions from the girls, three of which I’m including below. I am constantly amazed by these beautiful girls, their ever-optimistic outlook on life in the face of adversity, and their love for learning.
Fareeba, Third Grade
“My name is Fareeba. I have 2 sisters and 5 brothers. My favorite cartoon is Tom and Jerry. I love to go to school, and I read Urdu storybooks in my spare time. When I grow up, I want to open an institute for the poor and the helpless. I have worked very hard on this embroidery, and I will be very happy when someone buys it.”
Seema, Third Grade
“My name is Seema. I love coming to school to study and do embroidery. Sometimes I also study at home on my own when I am done with my household duties. I have 3 sisters who I am very close to. We play games when we have spare time. Big Madam (the school principal) is my role model. When I grow up I want to be a teacher just like her, because I love to teach. One day I want to go back to Afghanistan because I still think of it as home.”
Fatima, Fifth Grade
“I am Fatima. I study in fifth grade, and I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I love to read and write, but inflation is high in Pakistan, and it is very hard for my father to afford to send me to school. BLISS has reduced the burden of my education on my father. I will spend the money I get from coming to school on books. I hope someone will buy my work so I can continue to stay in school.”