Afghan father’s perilous motorbike school run to realize daughter’s medical dream

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Students attend a class at the Nooranya School in southeastern Paktika province of Afghanistan on Dec. 4, 2019. (AN Photo)
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A view of the Nooranya School in southeastern Paktika province on Dec. 4, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Rozai (in second row) in class with other students at her school, on Dec. 4, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Mia Khan and his daughter Rozai pose for an undated photo inside the Nooranya School in southeastern Paktika province of Afghanistan. Khan travels 12 km daily on his motorcycle to take his daughter to school every day. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Afghan father’s perilous motorbike school run to realize daughter’s medical dream

  • Devoted dad overcomes strict traditions on female roles in hope of seeing girl become town’s first female doctor

PAKISTAN: Devoted Afghan dad Mia Khan has been hailed for going the extra mile to help his daughter achieve her dream of becoming a doctor.

Every day, the daily wage laborer, from Sharan city in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province, travels 12 km on his motorcycle to take Rozai to school.

And when classes end, he is there for the long and hazardous journey home through tough borderland terrain.

“You know, we don’t have any female doctors in our town. It is my ultimate wish to see my daughter as its first female doctor. I want her to serve humanity,” Khan told Arab News.

Paktika shares a 300 km border with Pakistan’s newly merged tribal districts of North and South Waziristan and parts of Balochistan province, where powerful patriarchal norms still dictate most women’s lives.

But Rozai and her father are determined to buck the trend through her tuition at Nooranya School, a community educational institution built by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.

Rozai told Arab News: “We have to travel a long distance and I would like for a school to be established closer to our home. We are often tired (from our journey) when we arrive at school and sometimes, we are late.”

Saif-ur-Rehman Shahab, a representative of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, told Arab News that Khan, who has for years taken his children to school on a motorcycle, deserved all the plaudits he could get. Khan has two sons and seven daughters.

“Khan gets his children, specifically his daughter Rozai, educated in a very challenging situation. We have deteriorating security and poor awareness about girls’ education here. Khan is facing acute financial challenges working as a daily wage laborer. I deeply appreciate him for facing all these challenges boldly to educate his daughter,” Shahab said.

Hikmat Safi, an adviser to Afghanistan’s chief executive, said Khan’s passion was an inspiration to others. “Amid brewing insecurity coupled with cultural limitations, this is a really positive change when people like Khan come out to educate their children, primarily daughters.”

Nooranya School has 220 female students and is one of hundreds of community-based classes and schools, predominantly attended by girls, set up by the committee in various parts of Paktika province.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 28 min 22 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.