In a first, woman becomes head of education department in Pakistan’s South Waziristan

Noor Khadija, the first female deputy district education officer of South Waziristan tribal district in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, sits at her office in Tank on September 8, 2020. (AN photo)
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Updated 12 September 2020

In a first, woman becomes head of education department in Pakistan’s South Waziristan

  • Noor Khadija holds a masters degree in education and was appointed South Waziristan’s deputy district education officer on August 31
  • She plans to bring girls back to school in a war-torn region where female literacy rate is one of the lowest in the country

PESHAWAR: In a first, a woman has been appointed to head the education department and bring girls back to school in South Waziristan, a district in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, long wracked by militancy and where the female literacy rate is one of the lowest in the country.
Noor Khadija, who comes from a family of educators and has been associated with the education department for ten years, was appointed South Waziristan’s deputy district education officer on August 31. She holds a master’s degree in education.
“It was my long-standing desire to serve my community, specifically girls, to remove obstacles in the way of their education,” Khadija told Arab News in a phone interview.
In Khadija’s office, a portrait of Fatima Jinnah, the younger sister of Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, hangs on the wall behind the officer’s desk.




Noor Khadija, the first female deputy district education officer of South Waziristan tribal district Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, presides over a meeting at her office in Tank on September 8, 2020. (AN photo)

“As a woman, Fatima Jinnah proved that women could make a difference and play a decisive role to lead the society for positive change,” Khadija said. “I will strive to provide girls schools with all missing facilities, to empower girls through education, which is of paramount importance for a vibrant society.”
Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal regions used to comprise seven big districts, of which South Waziristan is one, and six towns known collectively as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It was governed for over 150 years by colonial era tribal laws which, coupled with the lack of economic development, led to a pervading sense of neglect and disenfranchisement among the tribal population.
Over the years, the tribal regions remained lawless, providing a haven for militants, gun runners and drug smugglers.
In 2009, the region was overrun with militancy as war raged in neighboring Afghanistan, pushing the Pakistan army to launch armed operations against militant safe havens. Millions of people were forced to flee their homes and thousands of students had to quit school. Educational facilities were destroyed or taken over by militants and the literacy rate plunged to 10.5 percent for girls and 36.66 percent for boys.
In 2018, FATA was merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the education sector fell under provincial control. But reform has been slow.
According to 2017-2018 data collected by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s elementary and secondary education department, 58 percent of children aged between four and 14 years remain out of school in tribal districts.
And though militants have largely fled the region to neighboring Afghanistan and attacks have drastically reduced, there is years of damage to the region’s education infrastructure to undone, Khadija said.
“Posting Khadija on the key position will improve girls’ education in South Waziristan district,” said Muhammad Shoaib Khan, a former deputy director in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) education directorate. “It will be a considerable relief for female teachers, now they will be able to share their problems with her.”
Khadija, too, is hopeful about the future.
“Educational institutions in tribal areas in general and my home district in particular, face daunting challenges and dearth of basic facilities such as boundary walls and drinking water,” she said. “But I will leave no stone unturned to bring things back on track.”


Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

Updated 19 September 2020

Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

  • The book tells the story of a young boy from Karachi's Lyari, who is learning about the virus to help others
  • 'Little Master' is illustrated by Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series 'Paak-Legion'

RAWALPINDI: "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book, is going to be released on Monday to guide Pakistani children how to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic and cope with COVID-19 misinformation.
Published by Mehrdar Art & Production (MAP), the book tells the story of Ahmed, a young boy from Karachi's Lyari area, who is trying to learn about the coronavirus to help keep others safe, regardless of their community background.
"Comics are a great way to tell a story positively and are really useful in countering misinformation,” Muhammad Faheem, documentary filmmaker and MAP founder, told Arab News on Saturday.

The cover of "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book to help Pakistani children cope with COVID-19 misinformation. (Photo courtesy of Muhammad Faheem via AN)

The efforts have been funded by MAP itself and through government and private support. To illustrate "Little Master," Faheem asked for help Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series "Paak-Legion."
Thousands of copies of "Little Master" will be distributed at schools in underprivileged areas such as Lyari, where misinformation has led to blame games and community tensions that affected virus response. Some narratives even questioned the very existence of the virus and necessity to follow any precautions against it.

Umair Najeeb Khan is working on an illustration for the "Little Master" comic book in Islamabad on Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Umair Najeeb Khan via AN)

In May, Faheem rolled out "Hum Sab Saath, Corona ki Kilaaf" ("All of Us Together Against the Coronavirus"), a campaign through posters, social media and talks by community leaders to address the situation.
"It got to the point where relief efforts in these areas were being compromised because people were questioning who deserved help," Faheem said. "We needed to address not only the severity of what was going on but educate the citizens of these areas on what was real information to help combat the fake news and rising bigotry."
The comic book is a follow up to these efforts.
"When kids read our comics, we hope they will learn more about the pandemic and how it is a collective effort that we all have to join together, regardless of our backgrounds."