I hated going to Pakistan when I was younger. My mother dragged me there for two, sometimes three months at a time over the summer. The heat was miserable and the humidity was unbearable. My family wasn't well off, so it's not like I was in a huge mansion of sorts living in the tropics, eating cold mangoes. That would've been nice. The only things I enjoyed were the company of my cousins, the food and the taste of Coca-Cola made from real sugar. Besides that, I really never did anything else. I was pretty quiet: my aunts would compliment me on my lack of communication. Heh.
It was not until I was a teenager that I truly began to appreciate my experiences in Pakistan. I started engaging in the family functions, weddings and other events. I actually left the house with people and explored. There were a lot of amazing things about my motherland. I slowly began to appreciate my visits more and more. The people were incredibly loving and optimistic. I remember my late uncle telling me:
"This religious violence will pass, they are just trying to get each other to fight now. Things will get better. You wait. Then Pakistan will finally become the nation it was supposed to be. Then maybe we'll actually be able to come visit!"When I used to stay at my oldest aunt's place, I noticed her daughters would spend ridiculous amounts of time memorizing textbooks. Apparently, her teacher knew absolutely nothing about the content they were supposed to learn. The homework was to just learn the facts. The book was ancient. I have a very vague memory of helping my cousin memorize her earth science textbook for one entire week. The reason I remember it is because I had never taken earth science before and I thought it was quite cool. By the end of it, I knew a little too much about the core, the mantle and the crust. I was seven years old.
That was the norm. Most of my cousins memorized textbooks and facts: there was rarely an engaging teacher pushing thinking and creativity. Teachers were in short-supply, as were books. Select private schools offered fully paid scholarships to the best of the best from government schools. Investment banking interviews have nothing on Pakistani children trying to get into a good school. It was highly competitive. I thought I studied a lot when I was younger, but my cousins studied and enrolled in private tutoring sessions during the summer. Unfortunately, for most of them, this education system did not do what it was supposed to. Some of my cousins never made it past the 10th grade: they got tired of feeling like the system wasn't getting them anywhere. The country wasn't financially invested in it's own youth.
I went back to Pakistan last summer and visited schools. I had just finished my first year teaching at a transfer high school in New York City. My experience was biased with children who were not intrinsically motivated to come to school. I wanted to get to know what the education "system" was like in Pakistan. I wrote about that here. In summary, there was no system for such hungry, highly motivated children. There was so much lost potential. I couldn't believe there wasn't something like a "Teach for Pakistan" to get college graduates and other young professionals into Pakistan's classrooms. Now there is.
Teach for Pakistan's approach and challenge is similar to Teach for America's approach. I'm very excited this organization is off the ground and running. To be honest, it encourages me about the potential of having a future home in Pakistan. I've always thought about moving "back." I put back in quotes because obviously I wasn't born there, but I am still very much connected to it. A part of me wouldn't be satisfied until I actually tried doing something there. Maybe it won't work out, maybe it will. It doesn't hurt to try.