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Muzaffarabad, AJK
Posted By Wajiha Saqib

In the heart of the valley of Kashmir, surrounded by beautiful mountains, with the Neelum river flowing alongside the city, one falls in love with Muzaffarabad at first sight. That is exactly what I felt when I visited Muzaffarabad for the first time in my life, for conducting ASER provincial training. There was something about that city which mesmerized me, from the mountain tops to the love and affection of the people. But more than anything, it was the innocent souls in the school that I met during my field visit who made me realize how, we as a nation, have failed them. The primary school I visited with my team of master trainers was surrounded by mountains and greenery. With so much beauty around, the place which should have been a hub for growth and happiness for these children, told another story. It was painful to see that in the chilly fall weather, these innocent children were wearing torn uniforms. The basic infrastructure was in place, yet the diligent administrators of the school with high ambitions for their students, had a different story to tell. A story that was bleak, that demanded the authorities to help them and the students to achieve better. We, as a nation, have made laws which make education the basic right of every student, yet we have failed to implement these laws. From laws to the realities of the classroom, we have been unable to deliver. This is what the primary school made me realize. Every day, the students, against all odds, hike up to the school to learn but the learning environment is not conducive for these children to reach their potential. There were no heating facilities. The walls of the classrooms were safe, and there was basic furniture, yet it was too cold to sit in those rooms and have a meaningful learning experience. There were basic toilet facilities but the water was cold. Many students did not have books and stationery. As the master trainers conducted the survey with the students in the school, it could be seen that the children responded well, yet there was a lot of room for improvement. With limited facilities, it was difficult for these students to excel. Muzaffarabad's primary school is a snapshot of what many schools face in Pakistan. Schools in far flung areas are hard to access and those who get access to it seldom get the facilities that are conducive to a sustainable learning environment. This is the sad reality of primary education in Pakistan. As we completed the survey training, and left the school, I realized that the purpose of ASER is to make the voices of these schools (with shabby facilities), these innocent students (with dreams of a better future), and these administrators (with determination to work for their communities) to be heard. I felt a duty towards these students, a duty towards this nation and a duty towards all such localities that need attention. Education is a basic human right according to our constitution and it is our responsibility to ensure that every child gets this right. As I left Muzaffarabad, my commitment to my work was stronger and I had a new mission. For me, ASER was no longer just a survey, but a promise for a new and prosperous future for the children of Pakistan.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ASER Pakistan.
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