Our first trip was roaring success by all measures. Seven students from NUML and about 50 from Iqra University made it to the village. Along with me were two other university faculty members. One was from NUML, and the other from Iqra University. The students were in high spirits and we roamed around in the village. Girl students visited a family and talked with their woman folk. They gave them some gifts. The men did not go inside the home. Muslim tradition does not allow that. We were trying to chat with the boys outside. People thought that a wedding procession had entered the village. We all found it quite funny. Some very young boys started to follow us to the village school. It was getting hot outside and I was looking for a shade for our group. I had previously planned for a visit to the school. After some search we found the school but it was locked because of the holiday. We got the school opened and the group felt relieved to come inside as it was getting hot. Finally, we had the school premises to ourselves. I had invited Babur who is a village local to address the students in the village school. Babur works as Program Manager Certification in Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy in Islamabad. The center is associated with the famous Agha Khan Foundation. Babur gave a talk on village issues and we discussed poverty and neglect matters. Some of our students had never been to a village school before. Most of them noticed the garbage all over the place and the stinking open drains meant for the sewage. The sewage simply flows into the fields adjacent to the village. Since Sohan is so close to the capital it has now acquired the looks of a town experiencing rapid construction of homes. Some offices/plazas face the Islamabad highway. Some decades back it was known to be very peaceful small village which was supplying milk and vegetables to the nearby city. Today it hardly looks like a village anymore. The size has grown over the years. There is little planned development. Some concrete roads have been built while some are just dirt paths. We were told that drug pushing had become a problem and it was happening with the connivance of the local police. Nothing new for us. Education is not a priority here. Reportedly, the school which we visited is in bad shape. By now we have distributed some ten sewing machines to the local families. The poorest of the poor happen to be Christians. The locals are only 10% of the population now as outsiders have settled in the village over the years. Still the locals control the politics and the economy of the village. This was also expected. For me the village was nothing new as I have widely traveled in the country’s interior. As expected, many students were really surprised at the village conditions. That was the whole point. It was meant for their education. We discussed the issue again in class last night. What can we do that would make a real difference in the Sohan village? How do we raise money for our dream Stitching/Weaving Center for the village girls? I can never forget the looks of the poor children who were following us as we toured the village. Do these children have a better destiny? Can we change things here? At least, we got thinking on these issues. Again, that was the whole point. I think the trip was very successful because of these discussions among students and faculty of two neighboring universities in Islamabad. This was the first time that students and faculty from NUML and Iqra had come together. A real breakthrough indeed.
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