Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Pakistan: Dec ‘09/Jan ‘10
Government officials have installed electricity in a northern Pakistan school just two days after students published an article criticising the lack of power in their high school.
Zahid Mahmood and Nisar Ahmed, students at Government High School Booni in Pakistan’s Chitral region, published the article in the Chitral Times as part of their training under IWPR’s Open Minds project. The project trains around 700 young people as journalists and partners with local and national media to print and broadcast their stories.
The 15-year-olds were part of a group assigned to write stories and chose the unavailability of electricity in their school as their topic.
“Government High School Booni is one of the most important and historic schools in Upper Chitral, but it lacks basic facilities and equipment,” they wrote. “In the modern age of the twenty first century, the school does not have electricity and students cannot use the computers and internet facility provided by IWPR.”
When the report was published in the Chitral Times, officials of the local office of the Water and Power Development Authority, WAPDA, a national body run by Pakistan’s federal government, contacted the school’s head teacher Ali Jamat to discuss the problem. Electricity was installed in the school within two days.
Jamat said this outcome had had a dramatic effect on the other students being trained by IWPR. “The students now feel empowered to write on various issues, and also [have begun to] criticise the school management for not being supportive of students’ academic problems,” he said. “We consider this a positive development.”
The Open Minds project uses journalism to increase students’ confidence in articulating their opinions and expressing themselves in a balanced, critical way. Through learning to write stories and seeing that they can affect local conditions, the young people trained by IWPR are helped to become responsible citizens who can hold their government to account.
“The trainee students continuously identify ... political and social issues and write about them critically,” said IWPR’s Pakistan programme manager Sherzad Ali Khan. “The training programme has provided them with basic skills of investigation, report preparation and presentation.”
The Chitral region is in the mountainous extreme north of Pakistan, and is both difficult to access and neglected by the federal and provincial governments. It suffers from a chronic lack of services and infrastructure. Many areas have no electricity and in others, avalanches destroy transmission lines every winter, often leading to months with no power at all.
In addition, areas that are served by the national grid have been subject to nationally imposed scheduled power cuts, known as load shedding, since 2006. Chitral has experienced up to 19 hours of power cuts per day in recent months.
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