Major Birgitta Magnin (right) and a member of the teaching staff help a young boy to grasp the basics of reading
Teaching the importance of clean water
A girl who has learned to write in the last couple of months demonstrates her skills
Basic child care is an important part of the scheme
Staff with some handmade puppets they use to help get important messages across
Switzerland/Pakistan: A Right to Learn
The Salvation Army’s Mother and Child Health Education (MACHE) Project in Pakistan, supported by the Switzerland, Austria and Hungary Territory, is producing amazing results and bringing about profound changes in the lives of many women and children, particularly girls.
The project, which combines literacy education with health and hygiene training as well as teaching practical skills, is aimed mainly at three groups, each with its own particular needs. It is run in 21 Salvation Army centres and can cater for around 1,000 women and hundreds of children at any time.
The first, and youngest, group to benefit from MACHE is made up of children aged four and over whose parents are illiterate. This causes problems when they reach school age because the governmental primary schools expect children to have at least a basic grasp of reading. For these children, the fact that their parents are illiterate could well lead to them not attending school themselves.
When Major Birgitta Magnin travelled to Pakistan from Switzerland, to see how MACHE project was progressing, she was able to see some of the young children who had benefited from being given a good start in their education. In one class alone, 16 children had been accepted by the governmental school.
The next group targetted by the project consists of girls aged between six and 12. In many cases these girls have to stay at home and look after their siblings because both parents have to work to support their often large families. This means, of course, that they are unable to attend school.
The MACHE project provides help and advice on many issues. Birgitta saw 16 girls who were had completed their primary education and were presented with certficates. They, and others, had also been taught skills such as embroidery and sewing. Now they will be able to make clothes for themselves and their families as well as producing goods to sell. Health standards have risen in the girls’ families since they were given health and hygiene training, so the benefits of the project are reaching far beyond the initial recipients.
One 10-year-old girl, who would usually spend her time in the fields with her mother, says, ‘I would love to go to school and I appreciate the opportunity to go to the MACHE programme. Now I have learned so much that I can help my younger sister, who goes to school, with her homework.’
The third group to benefit from the scheme comprises young mothers who did not have the opportunity to go to school. As they learn to read, write and count, they can pass on these skills to their children and even help them with their homework. The sewing skills help them to clothe their families at minimal cost.
There is a great deal of flexibility with this particular part of the project so that, if a woman cannot attend for a while because she is needed at home, she can come back when she is able and take up her studies where she left off.
One subject not taught is religion, and this means that Muslims and Christians are taught together. Birgitta says, ‘It is felt to be very important to accept and acknowledge each other as people with equal rights to learn.’
The benefits go far beyond picking up what many would see as basic skills. By learning and bettering themselves, the MACHE women gain in confidence and self-worth. Teaching on hygiene and subjects such as family planning and breast feeding are also having a great effect on the health and well-being of the families of these women and of the communities they live in.
One 22-year-old mother with children aged eight and two recognises the difference it has made to her family. ‘We have a very busy life and cannot pay proper attention to our children,’ she says. ‘We also did not have much knowledge. But I have learned a lot in this programme, especially how to look after sick children, how to feed them, how to keep their beds clean and why it is important to keep everything clean. After completing the MACHE courses I will be able to teach my children as well.’
Birgitta says, ‘The project is giving a large number of women and children an opportunity they otherwise would never have had to go through primary schooling as well as giving them skills and teaching them about health and hygiene matters.’
And is it worthwhile? Birgitta certainly thinks so. ‘As long as 70 per cent of women in Pakistan are illiterate,’ she says, ‘it is important to offer this kind of education.’
And the hundreds of women who have already benefitted from the project would certainly agree with that.