ISLAMABAD — The Pashtun-populated rural Balochistan is located on Pakistan’s periphery. It is a region where education for the poor is little to nonexistent, where healthcare is elusive and where women are confined in the home. The region is even further destabilized by militant insurgency and the U.S. war on terrorism.
The lack of education for the poor along with radicalization has in some extreme cases turned the Sunni youth into suicide bombers. Countless children, particularly girls, are out of school due to poverty, child labor and conservative social norms. Those who are in school are receiving a very poor and radicalized education. Many analysts of the region consider this worse than no education at all.
Asghar Khan comes from Pishin, one of the many marginalized districts. Growing up in these circumstances, he witnessed some of his own family and friends killed as a consequence of radicalization. Being a radical Muslim as a teenager, Khan aspired to be a suicide bomber himself.
However, his undergraduate studies in sociology and political science inspired Khan to change his ideas. After completing his MBA, he decided to start an organization to provide education for the poor in the region. In his view, only education could effect positive social change in the long run.
In 2013, Khan began campaigning for his idea and met with tribal leaders and government officials in Balochistan. Many cynics, he recalls, made fun of his idea and said he was living in a fool’s paradise. But, a generous few put their weight behind him with financial and moral support. In 2013, he founded DEWA, a Pashto language word for “dark in the light.” DEWA stands for Development, Education, Welfare and Advocacy, a nonprofit, charitable educational foundation. The foundation’s objective is to provide low-cost quality education for the poor in tribal areas of Balochistan.
DEWA established its first school in 2014 in a small village called Murgha Zakaria Zai. The organization expanded its advocacy work and successively established two more schools in the Churmian and Khanozai villages of the Pishin district. Khan and his team constructed all three schools employing their own labor.
The total number of students in the schools is now more than 268. There are 17 teachers — all female — employed from the surrounding villages. Thirty percent of students who cannot afford tuition are getting free education in the schools. Their tuition is adjusted from the tuition of students from relatively well-off families. Overall, the monthly tuition per child is considerably low, at a little more than $5. Some children pay as low as about a dime per month.
In 2016, the Acumen Fund that helps and empowers the world’s poor awarded the Rising Rhino Award to Asghar Khan for successful social entrepreneurship in Pakistan. Khan also became a nominee for the Nelson Mandela Award in February 2016.
During his one-year fellowship at the Acumen, Khan proposed the idea of The Joycation. The Joycation is aimed at establishing profitable schools in urban Balochistan to support the DEWA Foundation’s non-profitable schools in rural areas of the province. He founded his first The Joycation school in 2017 in Quetta. The school has one class that is run by two teachers and a maid.
An idea that was initially ridiculed has come to thriving fruition thanks to Khan’s dedication. But, he is not stopping yet. He aims to establish 25 campuses of The Joycation throughout Pakistan in the next decade, for which he needs to raise a budget of roughly $70,000. His long-term goal is to create 148 DEWA foundation campuses throughout Pakistan.
Asghar Khan has proven himself as a man who stands for those who cannot stand for themselves through his tireless work providing education for the poor in Pakistan. Khan’s efforts with DEWA and The Joycation are prime examples of what one brave, generous person can accomplish when faced with a seemingly impossible problem.
– Aslam Kakar