This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
October 11, 2023
By Nadeem Khan
Along the Eastern Bypass of the outskirts of Quetta lies the ramshackle village of Qadirabad, which for the past four decades has been home to roughly 40,000 Afghan refugees and migrants. The village has largely been overlooked by the government, with no infrastructure and basic facilities such as clinics and public schools available for its residents – save an open-air academy run by one Shakoor Khan.
Khan first began teaching refugee boys and girls voluntarily in 2009. Since there are no purpose-built academies in the village, he along with a male and a female volunteer teacher, has been tutoring the village children under an open sky and with very little resources at his disposal. For the children, and especially the girls, Khan and his school are perhaps their only chance at an education.
“When I first saw the state of the villagers, especially their children who would pick through rubbish heaps and were being exposed to bad influences, I wanted to do something for them,” he explains his motivations to start the school. “There was nothing here. Us volunteers and the local community got together to construct a boundary wall [for the school].”
And now even this can be snatched away from them at any moment, as the caretaker government ramps up its efforts to deport unregistered Afghan immigrants by October’s end. He tells Voicepk.net that they were also running the school out of two tents donated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but those were taken back some days earlier for reasons unknown to him.
Khan is deeply worried whether his students, if repatriated, would be able to continue their studies in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. For the girls, this concern is magnified due to the ban imposed on their education by the Taliban regime.
“But that has not deterred us from our work. We are continuing to teach children under the open sky, in the hot sun or in the chilly winds. Our mission will continue,” he insists.
“I want to study, and my parents want the same for me,” says nine-year-old Siddiqua. “But there is nothing here, not even a tent [so we have no place] to sit in.”
She has an older brother who graduated from Khan’s academy. He now goes to a public school in another village, where he has a chair to sit in and a table to write on. Siddiqua was expecting that she too would tolerate the hard earth for a little while longer till she too would have the opportunity to move to a public school, but the threat of deportation may permanently dash her dreams.
“There is no space for us to study. A lot of the children work here, picking garbage or other odd jobs at their young age. Everyone comes to study [at Khan’s school],” says Abdul Basit, one of the 340 students enrolled at the academy. “I learned how to read, write and speak in Urdu and English here, I studied Science here.”
He has spent the past eight years studying with only a handful of books under an open sky, and now wishes to be able to have a proper school to attend.
The Afghan Taliban’s decision to ban girls’ education and ability to work among other hardline policies have invited worldwide sanctions, further exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Some quarters have expressed concern over Pakistan’s decision to forcibly repatriate Afghan immigrants, which will certainly cast doubt on the future of refugee children, especially girls.