Being associated with ASER for years, it is now a routine process to travel to different places on short notice – such is the nature and the demand of my work. During the national planning of ASER 2014, I volunteered to go to Peshawar for the provincial training of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). I, along with another team member, travelled to Islamabad a day before and stayed the night. The next day we left for Peshawar at 6 am so that we reach well before time for the arrangements.
On my way to Peshawar, the fascinating terrain and the sun rise made me nostalgic and took me back to my childhood days when I visited this extremely oriental city for the first time. My chain of thoughts was broken by the ringing of my cell phone. I fumbled in my bag and finally picked my phone to hear my mother shouting, ‘come back, come back’. I still remember her shaky voice full of fear. She kept repeating herself: “Take a U-turn and come back". Before I could make her explain everything, she needed to calm down. I ensured her that I will return at my earliest but she needs to explain what has happened. She took a few minutes to grasp her breath back. My cousin (who holds a top position in one of the leading television channels) informed her about a bomb blast at the main road entering Peshawar city. To take away all her concerns, I told my mother that we were very far away from Peshawar. Since we left from Lahore a little late than planned, we were nowhere near entering the city so she doesn’t need to worry. I gave her my word that we will stop driving and wait for further details to assess the situation. I hung up and asked the driver our exact location and he said, “Madam, hum bus Peshawar shehr enter kerne lagay hain dus minute mei". We were on motor way, there was no turning back. It was 8:30 already. Our training was to start at 9 and we knew all our partners and district trainers were waiting for us. There was no way we could go back leaving all those people that we invited in the midst of it. I shared the news with our deputy director communications and partnerships and mutually decided to go ahead. I take pride in saying that I work with some really brave people.
With these mixed feelings, we reached the venue and wondered whether there would be any people at the training anymore (after hearing about the bomb blast). When I opened the door leading to training hall, it made me realize how strong and focused we all are. The hall was FULL of people and our regional team had already commenced the introduction. Without wasting anytime, excited, worried, and sad at heart over the blast news, I officially kicked off the provincial training. To my surprise, more than half the audience already knew what ASER was, what we do, how we assess children and some even knew our exact methodology. In an area like Peshawar, where the world seems to think that females are not allowed to go out of their houses, half of the participants of our training were females. They were here despite all security concerns and decided to stay for the training. I clearly remember one of them saying, “Agr aj hum in bombs ki waja se pechay hattay tou hum kabhi agay nahi barh sakain gay. This is an opportunity for us that you are here… to learn how to assess our children and know if they are learning anything at all. I will come here for all three days and will go back to the village assigned and MY village (which was not our sampled village) and conduct the assessment." I was delighted to see the dedication and spark in her eyes. Her motivation to improve things on her own was phenomenal. Her comments made my entire fearful and emotional day worthwhile. I knew I had at least one female who was not going to give up and will take the spirit of ASER back with her.