In the first of our ‘Battles to School’ blogs, we’re looking at the story of Wajida and the dangerous school journey she faces to get an education.
This is the first of four blogs we’re publishing which look at the difficulties some of our children face to attend school.
While a shower of rain can make walks through mountainous areas dangerous to negotiate, a shower of bullets is sadly also a reality for student Wajida. Rain makes the journey more difficult, bullets make it life-threatening.
But each day Wajida makes her dangerous school journey, often hearing gun fire and blasts going off in the distance, knowing that her education will earn her the ticket she needs for a brighter future.
Wajida, her sister, one of her three older brothers and mother all live in one of the most sensitive areas of the world – a remote location of Kashmir. This disputed territory between India and Pakistan is often the setting for gunfire and mortars. And yet it’s also a place where normal people try to get on with their normal lives.
“You can hear the bullets and the firing most nights,” she explains. “It’s in the woods – it happens almost every night.”
Wajida is an 8th grade pupil at READ Foundation School Chakothi and her commute to school takes her about an hour. In that time, she covers about 3km of mountainous area – watching her step as she climbs over rocks and cautiously navigates through bramble and loose stones.
At home, her mother awaits her return from school. Knowing each day that she says goodbye to her daughter could very well be the last embrace they share. She’s constantly torn between keeping her daughter safe at home, or sending her out to get an education which will enable her to get a better life in a safer area.
“There was a random blast once,” Wajida’s mother. “My daughters were so frightened they didn’t want to leave their room.
“It was probably an animal stepping on a landmine. We hear a lot of noises from the house.
“We’ve moved around when the fighting has happened – it’s a very scary environment and a very fearful situation we’re in.”
Sometimes the conflict gets to such intense levels, Wajida is kept away from school, or remains near the school overnight so she doesn’t have to risk walking home.
“Once, we couldn’t send the girls to school for two days because of the firing,” explains her mother. “We have an understanding with the school now that they can stay, even overnight, if it’s too much of a risk.”
Wajida’s father sadly passed away in 2015, leaving behind Wajida’s mother and her siblings. One of her brothers who lives at home works part time while studying, bringing in what little money the family has.
As she has no father to provide for the family, Wajida qualifies for READ Foundation’s orphan sponsorship programme. READ Foundation donors who Sponsor An Orphan enable children like to Wajida to go to school, covering the monthly costs of their uniforms, books and educational fees.
The family’s living conditions are basic compared to UK standards, and their household income is incredibly low.
But despite her struggles, Wajida is a determined young lady, who her mother describes as ‘very intelligent’.
Perhaps inspired by her surroundings, Wajida has opted for a career which will mend wounds rather than create them.
“I want to be a doctor,” she says. Adding simply: “I want to help people.”