Sindhis living abroad have attempted to have an organised one voice for decades. In many ways those who migrate from Sindh to North America remain connected to and deeply concerned about Sindh.
Diaspora organisations reflect the concerns of the educated professional class, which were educated in the very political era of the 1960s and 1980s, under the influence of Bhutto’s politics, and nationalist and leftist political ideologies. Gen Zia’s martial law was a defining movement for the people of Sindh; and Sindhis living abroad also formed associations that raised a voice for democracy in Pakistan.
There are several diaspora organisations working in North America and Western Europe. The Sindhi Association of North America (SANA), the largest and most popular among the existing ones, recently held its 33rd annual convention in LA, California. In recent years, SANA has repeatedly focused on the state of education in Sindh as more data has surfaced.
SANA used to have scholars, centrist politicians from the PPP and PML-N and Sindhi nationalists as speakers in their conventions. But that has changed in recent years. They seem to be disappointed with politics and many among them think that ‘politics has failed Sindh’ and that PPP and Sindhi nationalists are unable to make a difference in lives of people. A visible sign of the shift in their priorities can be seen in terms of who they invite from Pakistan to speak at their annual events; it is no longer politicians. There are close to 10,000 Sindhis living in North America; SANA has over 3,000 of the community as members.
The three-day 33rd annual convention had sessions on ‘girls education’, in which heads of institutions, gender specialists and educationists spoke about their concerns and contributions to education. Girls education matters most as female literacy has not increased in the province in the last one decade. Seventy-six percent of the women in Sindh’s rural areas remain illiterate. In certain districts such as Dadu, Badin, Sanghar, Tharparkar and Thatta, female literacy numbers remain stagnant at 12 percent. Most shockingly, there are no plans in place to address these gaps. One has to struggle to locate the provincial education department’s literacy plans to reach out to families and parents to bring back out-of-school girls.
At the convention, Anso Kolhi, a polio affected girl from Thar, was one of the speakers at the session on empowerment of girls. She narrated her hopes, struggle and fears regarding her school initiative, which received media and political attention too, but not much was realised. Anso was called into the Sindh Assembly, paid rich tributes for her educational services. Although a few new rooms for her school were constructed, she certainly fears sustainability of her school project. People were delighted to hear that the rate of enrolment has gone up by 100 percent in her school, and many more poverty-stricken families are willing to send girls to her school. But for all that she needs more rooms and more teachers. The reality is that at times she is not even able to pay salaries to teachers.
Shabnam Baloch, a feminist who has worked for years in the development sector in Sindh, was of the view that “it is not just access to education or lack of sufficient infrastructure of the schools that is an obstacle but the...prevailing gender bias in Sindhi society ...[the] language that people...parents use in [their] interaction with girls in (sic) home is very disempowering...”.
Sadiqa Sallahuddin, founder head of Indus Resource Centre (IRC), shared her experience of working in different parts of the province, her non-profit work in Khairpur, Dadu, parts of rural Karachi, and presented a well-informed paper on the dysfunctional education system. Out of 49,000 schools over 42,000 schools are actually really just one or two rooms, where not more than three teachers are posted to teach all subjects to students of different grades. How can such children then compete with urban private or even public sector schools?
What is most disturbing regarding the state of education is teachers being appointed without due training and education on a political basis, a practice that went on until recently when a World Bank funded teacher hiring and monitoring system was put in place. A major overhaul of teacher education was undertaken by USAID with the establishment of education departments at three top public sector universities in Karachi, Hyderabad and Khairpur introducing new courses on teaching methodology including a two-year new Associate Degree in Education (ADE).
When the present ruling PPP took over Sindh back in 2008, the provincial education budget was less than Rs60 billion. It has gone up to Rs202 billion (the salary component alone has reached Rs176 billion). A 300 percent increase in the education budget has not resulted in a manifold increase in enrolment nor has it improved quality of education. This year in the results announced by three matriculation boards – Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas – over 50,000 students have failed (despite widely reported rampant cheating in the exams, 11000 alone failed in the Mirpurkhas Board). These board results also show that the number of students appearing in annual exams has not increased with the change in budgetary allocation.
Organisations like SANA, whose members hail from the educated professional class of Sindhi society, understand the importance education holds for the future of Sindh. SANA continues to fund various scholarships programmes. For example, members pledged $100,000 for school support, scholarships and a skill development programme. The funding may not be high, but it shows the commitment and willingness to contribute towards an educated Sindh. After all, they are the ones who have benefited from the education system, which was once good enough to have produced professional doctors, engineers, IT experts and researchers.
It hurts the diaspora to see Sindh’s socio-economic backwardness when they visit their villages and small towns. They want to see Sindh as a developed, prosperous land. I asked former President SANA Dr Valeed Shaikh what keeps him connected with Sindh after having lived in the US for the past three. His reply: “They are my people; I belong to them”.
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