We sat on the plain dirt ground, playing with the small sticks we had picked up on the way to the field. I was carving my name, and as I proceeded they all abandoned their sticks and began to look carefully at the way I drew my words. When I finished writing, I motioned for them to do the same. They all looked down, but made no move to follow suit. It was only after some time had passed that one of them spoke:
"We don't know how to." For the first time in my life, I was left speechless.
There were four of us sitting in the clearing, among the mustard flowers that day. I was the eldest, and the only one educated enough to write my name.
My young companions are sisters, Rubina, Jameela and Ayesha, and they have grown up in rural Punjab. If you are to ask them of their daily routine, it would mainly consist of cooking, cleaning and looking after the cattle. At night, however, they head over to their neighbors' home to watch TV, but usually leave as soon as the news reports begin to air.
"An incident in another part of the world will not change the conditions of my home, so I do not bother with the news," Bano, the mother of the three girls, begins, "besides my husband does not believe women and politics go hand in hand." Her husband's thoughts are echoed by many men in Pakistan, which cannot stop one from wondering whether other prominent sectors face such discrimination as well.
Bano's daughters are in their early teens, all born well after the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) and Pakistan's acceptance of these goals; yet the year in which these goals were to be achieved, 2015, universal education has clearly been a major failure; one among many others.
Before placing complete blame on the government, we must look at Pakistan in comparison to other nations. Most definitely, over the past 15 years we have faced a great deal of natural and man-made disasters, and as we have occupied ourselves with resolving these issues we have greatly lagged behind in reaching the goals set by the UN. However, it does not pass one's notice that even these disasters, that have held our attention for years now, are still in their initial stages of being solved.
Developing nations are now beginning to adopt Sustainable Development Goal's (SDG's). The question arises whether or not Pakistan will gear up this time to achieve the set targets. With political instability, and military dictatorship a thing of the past, the government institutions should divert their energy towards the asset that matters the most -- the population; without it we lose all credibility to be called a state by international standards.
It has been a few months since that incident in the fields, and I have seen my little friends many times after. They seem to moving along just fine; as if illiteracy has not, and will not, impact their life in anyway. Perhaps it will not; their ignorance towards the written word may just become bliss of sorts.
I, however, have never asked them to write anything again; either I did not want to embarrass them or because I was just ashamed at my helplessness towards their plight; for now I would bet on the latter.