When Umer Afridi wanted to advertise his makeshift community school in Jamrud, he used an old militant tactic: he got mosques to make the announcement on the loudspeaker.
The mosque told people to send their girls. “We also visited every house to inform the parents about the school,” Afridi says.
And they came.
Because in this area, Warmando Mela near Jamrud, which is a part of Khyber Agency, people were unhappy their daughters had been forced to give up on learning.
Seventy-three year old Abdul Ahad points to the mountains. “Without an education,” he says, “daughters are no different than sheep and goats grazing there.” He regrets that his daughters could not go to school and he is not the only one who feels the loss.
Many people stopped sending their daughters to school when militants threatened them. Otherwise the girls used to walk several kilometers to get to the middle school in Warmando Mela. The problem is that militants would patrol the area on motorcycles. Parents were scared that the men would pick up their daughters. They had no choice but to keep them at home.
“They would have done post-graduation and even gone on to get PhDs had there been no militancy in the area,” says resident Sail Khan.
The area has a population of roughly 15,000 people but it has no primary school. Thirty-four-year-old Umer Afridi, who had returned home with an MA in international relations from Peshawar University, decided that something had to be done in 2016. People helped excavate a roadside mountain to make space for a shelter where children could sit. There was no building in the area which could be made a school and a hujra could not be an option.
There isn’t enough space so Afridi takes two shifts, morning and evening. Today around 150 girls come here to learn English, Science, Mathematics, Urdu and Islamiat.
The school was later declared a community school by the Federal Education Foundation that started paying him a salary of Rs10,000 and provided books and bags with the promise to award the students grade V certificates.
And then, much to everyone’s delight another community school just for girls opened 12km away.
During militancy, from 2011 to 2015, no one could even imagine of sending their daughters to school let alone open new ones. “You have been declared an agent of NGOs which was considered anti-Islamic,” says Afridi.
But the times have changed. “We too want our women to get an education and become teachers and doctors,” adds Sail Khan.
Parents have noticed the change in their daughters. Abdul Ahad says that neither he nor any woman in his house could even dial a number on his mobile phone. “But my grand-daughters can do it skillfully,” he says. “With an education they learn how to talk to their elders, they keep themselves clean, and learn morality and are heading towards success.”