Dedication Pays Off: DEWA, AFAR, & The Afghan Refugees of Quetta

Afghan kids in Pakistan, image courtesy Dennis Drenner (c)
Afghan kids playing in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Image (c) Dennis Drenner

Today I received great news from my friend Naeem Khijli, the current Director of DEWA, a refugee rights organisation I was involved in establishing in Quetta, Pakistan in 2008.

Naeem told me that, after several years of trying to gain support from external funders, the team finally received the backing of UNHCR Pakistan and the Balochistan Government.

This is an incredible feat for us because, like any NGO in its’ early stages, we faced several setbacks in our effort to create a functioning school for refugees in a system where the NGO and foreign-aid world is also ridden with corruption and cronyism.

With the assistance of the UNHCR, DEWA will now be able to fund teacher salaries and provide schooling material for the children through the Alternative Learning Pathway Program

The schooling options available in the village (Quran and Hadith studies), notice the lack of girls too.
The schooling options available in the village in 2008. This was actually only actually Quran and Hadith studies, no formal studies were available. Notice also the lack of girls. Image, Kate Grealy 2008

I first became involved in establishing the DEWA refugee education program with members of the Pashtun community through the United Youth of the Khijli Tribe (UYKT) in Quetta, Pakistan when I travelled there in 2008.

Whilst staying in Quetta, I made friends with UYKT members who were passionate about improving the lives of refugees living in poverty in the outskirts of the city, but who didn’t yet have the resources to finalise the project.

We chatted over several days about starting a project together to help improve the lives of a small community of impoverished Afghans, with the combined resources of local businessmen and donations from Australians through fundraising events.

After several days negotiating with tribal elders over too many pots of milk chai tea (I think I had a tannin overdose), we finalised the concept and plan for the program and the school and looked at spaces to rent to begin the project which the Khijli Youth eventually called the Development Education Welfare Assistance Program.

The DEWA school in the early days, 2009
The humble DEWA school in the early days, mid-2009

Returning to Australia I formed the not-for-profit Hope AFAR as a platform to create resources for the project in Pakistan, with the help of family and friends, in particular, Sophia Tipping, Zelda Riddel, and Jef Tan who have been so dedicated to the project since its’ inception.

We held events to enable to purchasing of equipment, the payment of rent, and so on.

Community members pitching in to enable the building of the new school site from scratch
Community members pitching in to enable the building of the new school site from scratch

In early 2013 whilst I was in Indonesia, however, I received some sad news. Our dear friend and co-founder of the DEWA project, Asmath, was murdered. This was a sad reminder of the reality of life in Quetta, which is plagued by civil conflict, terrorism, and targeted killings of activists and prominent community members.

I spoke to him while he was in hospital but I didn’t realise at the time that it would be the last time I would ever speak to him. He didn’t mentioned to me that he had been shot.

For the DEWA and AFAR team it was a great loss, but the team in Quetta on the ground continued with their work despite losing their founder and despite personal risks involved until today.

Heading back to school after playing cricket. Some of these boys are the heads of their household, having lost their father to war
Students heading back to school after playing cricket, Naeem is pictured in the background. Most of these boys are orphans, and the heads of their household. Having lost their parents to war, acts of terrorism, or in targeted killings

Today, we celebrate the ability of the school to continue running on its’ own two feet, with the support of donors and the local government. We also celebrate the vision and leadership of our co-founder, Asmath.

I am so proud of the team in Quetta who have worked with so little resources to establish the project. As former refugees themselves, they understand the great value education offers young refugees living in poverty in another land.

If you are interested in donating or contributing to this project, you can find more information at Hope AFAR. Follow developments on Twitter also @HopeAFAR

 

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