In the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, a group of young girls are assembled in a classroom. Despite the bitter cold outside, the freshly painted classroom exudes warmth and happiness. As we enter, the girls greet us with clapping and the phrase “pakher raghlay,” which means welcome in the local language.
Pictures and text by Amjad Hilal and Unat Hayat, Pakistan Red Crescent Society Psychosocial Support Programme, Swat
We are on a monitoring visit to schools in the Swat Valley. Selected schools have carried out 20 guided psychosocial support workshops, and we ask the children how they feel having completed the sessions.
Eleven-year-old Amina, a fifth-grader in one of the selected schools, opens up. “Before participating in the psychosocial support workshops in class, I always made fun of my friends, stealing small things from my classmates, and I used to lie to my parents. Now I am a different person – I no longer have these bad habits. I am fortunate to be part of these sessions and I have learned a lot from them.”
Benefits to families
Improved behaviour was not the only perk at home for parents. Some families also reaped benefits from the psychosocial support programmes (PSP), as in the case of Safia, who shared her enthusiasm for the sessions with her family members. “After participating in a few sessions, I shared some of the activities with my mother and grandmother,” Safia says, “In the beginning, they were annoyed with me, asking, ‘Is that what you’re learning at school?!’”
Gradually, Safia’s parents began to witness positive changes in her behaviour and overall personality, and they warmed to the idea of the psychosocial support sessions. “One day when I came home from school, my mother called me in and whispered in my ear, ‘Can you show me some of the activities you are learning at school?’ I could hardly believe it!” Safia relates. “So I asked my mother to stand up, and I showed her one of the energizers I learned during the sessions. She enjoyed it a lot and told me she felt very relaxed. My mother also commented that after doing a few psychosocial activities, she was getting more and more into them.”
Fearing for the safety of daughters
Some parents had real fears about their children’s safety after the conflict. Most of the schools in the area were destroyed during the conflict, and were further damaged by the floods that followed.
Twelve-year-old Maliha told us how her school building was damaged during the conflict. “My parents were scared to send me to school,” she said.
Even after the conflict was over, the violence had a strong residual impact, especially on young female students. The girls were scared, withdrawn, lacking confidence and trust. The workshops inspired confidence in the young girls and gave them something to look forward to. “Since the PSP sessions started, I always feel excited and can’t wait for the next day to go to school and enjoy and learn more,” Maliha told us.
One humorous comment during our visit came from a student named Aiysha. On our way out, she said to us, “I don’t want to go onto the next grade because the PS team doesn’t have sessions for that class; I want to do the sessions again.”