The piece below should be in the Onion or get a rotten tomato. For real, the USAID has made a grant of $20 million to Rafi Peer Theater group to create a local version of Sesame Street where the setting is a rural village and the protagonist a spirited little girl named Rani.
BBC quotes Imran Peerzada. "She will represent what little girls have to go through in this gender-biased society...her journey would inevitably touch on Pakistan's ongoing fight with militancy, but would not directly refer to religion.""We don't want to label children‚" Peerzada continued. "The basic learning tools of literacy‚ numeracy‚ hygiene‚ and healthy eating have to be in place first."
But why does one need $20 million to make culturally specific Urdu version of a show? These are very expensive episodes and must be studded with diamonds. A cost breakdown would be intriguing to audit.
Moreover, if the basic purpose is educating children on health and skills, then shouldn't that come through schools which are a shambles in rural areas? How many schools can you run with this money? How many teachers can you train and pay? Was there a study done of the impact of such programming, which despite its nominally good message and educational value, would take months and years to seep in (incidentally) versus hand-on, say, schooling?
When we were doing flood relief work in parts of Sajawal as part of the SLRC, we would see villages on both sides of the road. Some had electricity. Occasionally, in one of the traditional mud homes, you'd even see a TV set. It is possible that the village children gather around and learn a thing or two from Cookie Monster. But the real problems run deeper. Children in these villages have to go to Thatta/Makli for schooling after Grade 5. For those without resources, this 15 km travel implied an end to education. Only the more privileged boys made the trek to school after fifth. Education is a state of emergency.
In that context of real educational disabilities, the premise that a brave and daring girl will somehow curb militancy and positively impact education is flawed. Its the western world's fantasy of how the world turns. The war on Afghanistan liberated women. Fiction imitates this fantasy and you see book after book popularizing the myth of the women (and even men) enduring and rising above religious patriarchy with no commentary on how continued war and hunger are bad for women and children too.
In 2009, SDPI did a study where they suggested connections between militancy and food insecurity. 48.6 % of Pakistan's population doesn't have access to sufficient food. FATA has the highest percentage of food insecure people (67.7%) and a woeful 6.2 % female literacy followed by Baluchistan. The 10 most food insecure districts include Dera Bugti, Musa Khel, Upper Dir, North Waziristan, Kohistan, Muhmand, Dalbidin, South Waziristan, Orakzai, and Panjgur. According to SDPI, there is a connection between food insecurity and literacy and health. "Negative coping strategies include reducing expenditure on health and education." Households in FATA are spending 67% of household income on food items. In Sindh, 62% And the situation is only getting worse as we move towards corporate farming and no fix to landlessness and sharecropping. Food deficit districts have increased from 62% in 2003 to 76% in 2009. Food inflation in Pakistan reached its peak in 2007-08 when it soared to 36%. Pakistan is ranked 11th at ‘extreme risk’ on the Food Security Risk Index - worse off than India and Bangladesh.
For more details see:
So its convoluted logic at best that a soft drone program will softly wean us off militancy when the heart of the matter is the stomach.
In that light donating such a large sum of money to one group seems an unjustified and unreasonable expenditure, however creditable their credentials and talents. At the end of the day, how many jobs will this project create? How many mouths will it feed? How many elementary school breakfasts will it fund? How many actual graduates will it create? With money like this you will have people scrambling for the dough -- pimping Elmo.
Hearsay has it that the theater group has hired one lonesome person to travel to remote parts where there is no access to TV and he will show the program on his one dusty laptop. I hope he got a fast car too because it will be long and lonely travels for him.
If USAID can not build schools, can they at least implement a school breakfast program for five years with this money and watch the indicators? Feed the kids eggs and apples, adapt a holistic approach and stop talking about gender oppression as if it has nothing to do with the hunger and the harder issues of drone warfare, and the rural dis-empowerment.
I mean we need more than the letter of the day, folk, and the benefits of hand sanitizer.