It has been more than two years since the Taliban were driven out of the Swat Valley. Their memories, however, still haunt the minds of school-going children.
The Taliban may have banned education in the valley, but people, who believed in the power of knowledge, were determined to pursue it.
Faiza, 19, is one such woman who is committed to working for the uplift of education in Behrain, a small town in Swat. Even thought she could not appear in her intermediate examinations due to closure of schools during the insurgency, she did not give up on her desire to complete her graduation. Her courage and determination has become a ray of hope for several students in the area.
Her most difficult task was to erase bitter memories of militants from her mind as well as from the minds of her students.
“The young innocent children are still traumatised by the barbaric practices of the militants. The phrase ‘Taliban ragho’ (the Taliban have come) is still fresh in their minds,” Faiza told The Express Tribune.
She said she could not forget what she went through during the militants’ rule. Once she was stopped while she was on her way to her college and was threatened to wear a veil with cap instead of a headscarf.
However, life in Swat is gradually recovering from the dark days, and the number of school-going children is increasing with the passage of time.
Despite all of that, children frequently question their parents about suicide bombers and the presence of security personnel in the area, while parents are unable to provide any answers to them.
“We don’t know where the Taliban came from and what their motives were, but they were fluent in Pashto language, due to which our children cannot forget their words and style of dialogue,” said a resident of Swat. “Even though we were able to survive, we are still living in fear and misery. It feels as if each bullet fired in the valley is graven in out chest.”
Amjad Ahmed Jamali, another resident of Swat, said, “We left our homes in a hurry when the security forces launched an operation against the militants. However, my 10-year-old son was not ready to leave his house without his books and schoolbag.”
Inamullah, another resident, said his eight-year-old son kept asking the reason for his schools destruction.
Usman Saeed, a social activist hailing from Behrain, said that a child protection committee had been constituted by local people to rehabilitate the children who had gone through a shocking phase in their lives.
Amar Zafarullah, who works for a non-governmental organisation Save the Children Pakistan (SCP), said his organisation is focusing on the issues being faced by children. He said SCP had established educational centres where the children were educated in a friendly environment to overcome the crisis.
Faiza said that people faced a number of difficulties due to illiteracy during migration. There were hundreds of people who could not fill their registration forms. On their return, they realised the importance of education.
She said women in her neighbourhood requested her to teach their children, especially girls at home, since the education institutions were not catering to the needs of people.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.