A school in one of the remotest parts of Pakistan, was demolished when militants bombed it earlier this year – the third blast in three years.
This incident in Landi Kotal village left the 300 or so students, aged four to 14, in the lurch.
One of the students, Mamarha Afridi (right), was about to sit for examinations. The only place that she and her schoolmates could use was the mosque.
“I did my three papers inside the mosque on the carpet with the other girls while boys did theirs on the road under the sun,” says the fourteen-year-old from the village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province.
Landi Kotal only gets about two to three hours of electricity each day, and they only have one access road and this was destroyed by the militants, making transportation hard.
The villagers are in constant fear as the militants are stationed there and they keep a close eye on them.
Mamarha does not let this get in the way of her education. She also does not let the fact that girls in her village only study up to the age of 10 or 11.
She is so determined to complete her studies because she wants to be a doctor to provide free medical check-ups for the girls and women in her village where womenfolk can only be treated and examined by women medical personnel.
“I work hard because I want a scholarship to study medicine. I also want to get a scholarship so that other girls in my village will do the same,” she says.
Mamarha and two other 14-year-olds Aqsa Zaman and Sumaira Mumtaz, are at the 2012 Asia Youth Forum. They are among the youngest debaters in the championship and they are one of the two Pakistan teams in Pattaya where the tournament is held.
Aqsa and Sumaira come from different villages, Dargai and Charsadda respectively, located in the same province. All the three girls study in three different schools set up by Baacha Khan Trust Education Foundation. There are 14 such schools in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Their parents were supportive when the girls told them they were accepted into the forum although the people in their villages were against the idea.
“They kept saying ‘Don’t go, don’t go! You are girls.’ But we still came and we’re so happy to be here,” says Mamarha.
Her father, sent her to Peshawar for practise and selection a month before this forum. Only her immediate family knows about this. Her father did not want their relatives and other villagers to know about this to avoid vile comments and snide remarks.
He then came to Peshawar to send her off on the flight to Bangkok. This is Mamarha’s and the other girls’ first experience travelling by plane.
Sana Ejaz Peshawar (left), a training officer of the girls’ school, says:
“To these villagers, as long as the girls can learn to read letters and bills, it’s enough for them. But we selected them because they can represent their district and their country.
“We had a selection process where both boys and girls were screened. We picked these three girls because they showed interest in debate and their English is good.”
She adds: “Coming here is a good chance for them because they don’t have competitions like this in their region,” she says.
The girls say they made many friends during their stay, and they want to learn debate skills so that they can gain knowledge and experience.
“We were really excited about being here in Thailand, and we get to learn about debate!” exclaims Aqsa, whose ambition is to be an army officer.
The girls also promised to spread their knowledge about debate to their friends back in school.
S. Raheel Akhtar (right), who is participating in the coaches and judges training at the forum, says the kind of exposure these girls are getting will help in moulding them to be strong leaders.
“We need girls and women like these girls who can communicate effectively and without fear in national and international forum. These girls will help bring greater development to their region,” said the 27-year-old assistant sales manager who has been debating in Pakistan for the last 16 years.
He adds: “Insyallah, these girls will do well with the support of their parents.”
The forum from May 15 to 26 is organised by the International Debate Education Association and UNITED Thailand.