Last week, Zahida and Rubina said “Goodbye” to their trainers at the Fatima Memorial Hospital in Lahore Pakistan. They, along with eight other young ladies from Pagosa Springs’ Sister Community in Pakistan, have just completed Level 1 training in Midwifery.
To return to their villages in the Gurais Valley, the ladies traveled 18 hours in a van on dirt roads then transferred to Toyota Land Cruisers, which were to take them to their villages. About half way into the Gurais Valley, a landslide triggered by recent rain and snow blocked the road. Zahida and Rubina live in two of the most distant villages, so they walked the last 10 miles in the snow. When asked earlier if they were concerned about having to walk home, they responded, “We will walk. We are not afraid of a distance of 45 kilometers. We will take knowledge to our valley.”
Midwifery training for these 10 ladies was made possible by Pakistan Relief using donations from Pagosans to cover their expenses. This organization consists of young Pakistanis who donate their time and expertise to promote peace, prosperity and pleasure. Over $11,000 was raised this summer in Pagosa Springs through a Pakistani dinner, carpet sales, and by donations from the Four Corners Folk Festival and many individuals. These funds were used to train 468 residents of the Gurais Valley in First Aid, and to provide four weeks of Pre-Natal Care training for 10 ladies selected to be midwives.
Most of the women had never traveled outside their villages, so the trip to Lahore was an eye-opening experience for both themselves and their families.
According to Mr. Shabir Shah, who traveled with them representing their parents, “It’s a revolutionary step that will bring a big change in our area. After this example, other parents will also be awake and start liking education for their daughters and sisters.”
In addition to providing better health care for women living in the Gurais Valley, this program has given them an opportunity to see the world beyond their Valley. These ladies know that this training was funded by donations from Pagosans. Although they have never been to Pagosa Springs, the ladies now know that there are some people living in a small mountain village in the U.S. who are thoughtful and kind.
Challenges to these young women went beyond difficult travel and stepping into a new world. On the way from Rawalpindi to Lahore, they heard the news of a suicide bomb blast killing 38 people in Rawalpindi. Later that day, there was another suicide bomb blast on the freeway only miles from the dormitory where they were staying.
The determination of these young ladies to overcome such challenges is illustrated by trainee Syeda, who said, “I had a great desire to have some knowledge of midwifery but there was no chance at all and I never imagined that one day I will be selected for midwifery training.” She lost her mother while giving birth to a younger brother.
To qualify for midwifery training, the ladies had to have completed the 10th grade. They were so determined to obtain a high school education that they went against the local custom and attended boys’ schools. There are no girls’ schools in their area. Annual exams were given in the spring in Kel, a village located 20-30 miles away from their homes. Because the roads between Kel and Gurais were still closed with snow, the girls walked for two days in each direction to take their exams.
Dr. Shabnam Sarfraz, the coordinator for the Midwifery Training Project at Fatima Memorial Hospital, commented on their determination. “They paid immense attention to their studies. They remained studying late at night till 1 or 2 a.m. every night. I appreciate their enthusiasm and keenness in the training program.”
Now that the ladies have completed Level 1 training in midwifery and returned to their villages, they will spend the winter in the snowbound Gurais Valley. Each was provided with a warm coat and boots so they can travel about their villages telling of their training in pre-natal care. Next summer they will return to Fatima Memorial Hospital for eight weeks of training in natal and postnatal care. In addition to providing midwifery training to these 10 ladies, this program will be an incentive for other young ladies to complete high school and pursue training in nursing or medicine.
This is the second year that Pagosans have reached out to their Sister Community in Pakistan to demonstrate how two small mountain communities located on opposite sides of the world can come to know, understand and accept different cultures.
Early donations, which will help to fund the rest of the midwifery training early in the summer, can be made to: The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship/Pakistan, P.O. Box 5984, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.