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
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.
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.
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.
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.