Gilgit-Baltistan, known for its scenic beauty, present an irony. A majority of the residents of the region live a life of poverty marred by illiteracy in an underdeveloped set-up.
To help the people of the northern areas, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in collaboration with Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has begun an initiative to educate and train underprivileged children of underdeveloped and far-flung areas, especially in Pakistan’s north, in order to promote education and sports activities.
PAF initiated two programmes in this respect three years back-Free Education and Training (FET) and Volunteer Programme in Gilgit-Baltistan. In the volunteer programme, educated individuals are selected from various walks of life from throughout Pakistan. Recently, PAF has begun running these programs in Naltar, a valley at an hour’s drive from Gilgit. The children are being provided free books. Computer labs have been set up and salaries are being given to local teachers. PAF is also training skiers in the area with the help of the Ski Federation of Pakistan (SFP).
SFP spokesperson Obaid Abbasi told The Express Tribune that different governments floated different ideas to deal with the situation but in vain. The idea of private-public partnership is not new but few private organisations and agencies are ready to give a helping hand to the government in overcoming the menace of illiteracy, he said. In Abbasi’s opinion, the idea has the potential to bring a major change in the lives of locals, and immediate attention is required not only from the government but the private sector too.
Abbasi is also in-charge of CAA Ski Affairs. He said CAA had approved Rs0.5 million for the education and training of children in the area annually. The project will also be extended to other areas, he added.
DG CAA Air Marshal Muhammad Yousaf said, “We supported the idea and signed an MoU with PAF to provide Rs0.5 million annually to the Ski Federation for free education and training of children”. He said this will not only help enhance the literacy rate of the area but also nurture talent.
Talking to The Express Tribune, SFP Secretary General Air Commodore Mussarat Ali said there are only two schools in Naltar — a primary school for girls and a middle school for boys, and good teachers are hesitant to come there from other areas, while local teachers are incompetent. The volunteer programme, therefore, is of great importance. The volunteers who are selected teach children and also give training to teachers, he said, adding: “Three years have passed; now people are more open to sending their children and even girls to schools”.
PAF also has been arranging sports competitions in the area for the last few years and the winners are given free education and training.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2015.