Pakistan: Sept '09

Participants in Open Minds project bolstered by publication of first story in national press.

Pakistan: Sept '09

Participants in Open Minds project bolstered by publication of first story in national press.

Wednesday, 21 October, 2009

Trainee student journalists on IWPR’s Pakistan youth project, Open Minds, received a major confidence boost in September when their very first story was published in a national newspaper, after just two months of training.

The article, compiled from students’ reports on the failure of local authorities to address problems in the north-western city of Peshawar, was translated from Urdu and appeared in the English-language daily The News.

The 16-year-old trainees at Madrassa Taleemul Quran in Pakha Ghulam village, on the outskirts of the city, said seeing the story in print encouraged them to believe that journalism can make a difference.

"We will continue highlighting more issues confronting our area and people,” said student Hazrat Ali. “This really gave us confidence and we will write more and more in future.”

Another student, Mohammad Amjad, was very excited to see his story in the newspaper. “It was a source of encouragement for me and I will try to improve my reporting and highlight more issues through media,” he said.

Trainer Yousaf Ali, a staff reporter for The News, said the students had been ready to take on their first investigative report just two months into the training programme.

He said they had only just completed a course in the basics of journalism and story development.

Although madrassa students generally spend most of their time within the confines of the religious schools, on this occasion trainees were allowed to go out into the community as reporters.

Yousaf asked small groups of students to pick a local issue they wished to investigate. Among the issues chosen in this semi-rural northern suburb of the city were sanitation, power shortages, and school facilities. Public services in Pakistan’s cities, especially in more peripheral areas, are often neglected.

The youths spoke to local people, including respected elders, as part of their investigations. Residents expressed dissatisfaction with the local authorities, whom they accused of paying little attention to the area.

One of the trainees’ reports, focusing on public health and rubbish removal, described “piles of dirt and filth” visible throughout the area. Rubbish blocking open drains resulted in pools of filthy water, which as attracting mosquitoes, the report said.

Mohammad Amjad, who led the group investigating public health, told Yousaf that he initially found it a challenge to question local elders. Pakistani schools and madrassas emphasise rote learning and obedience, and students are rarely given and opportunity to ask their own questions.

Open Minds training aims to increase young people’s confidence in questioning and engaging actively with community leaders and officials, to help them contribute more effectively to solving problems.

Another group of trainees, investigating facilities at the only high school in the area, found that, despite previous assurances, the authorities had not acted to reduce classroom overcrowding. Their report said that the local nazim, or mayor, had promised to build more rooms in the schools, but had failed to make good his pledge.

This failure was mentioned in the story that appeared in The News, prompting local editors to urge politicians to address the problem.

Pakistan: Open Minds
Support our journalists