For an in-depth case study on the work of Peace Education and Development (PEAD) Foundation, Insight on Conflict’s local correspondent in Pakistan, interviewed the executive director of PEAD Foundation, Ms. Sameena Imtiaz.
When asked about the vision behind the creation of the organisation, in particular for peace in Pakistan, Sameena mentioned that:
It was the post-9/11 scenario and the country was passing through the most crucial times of its history, both internally and externally. In the wake of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre attacks in New York, the Western media was projecting an extremely negative perception and image of Pakistan – a country where the majority holds extremist/terrorist views, where all women are suppressed, every child abused etc. Also, there was a general feeling of despondency everywhere and hence there was a need to work on improving the falsified image of Pakistanis abroad as well as educate people in Pakistan- youth in particular- about their roles and responsibilities for working towards a better, prosperous & moderate Pakistan. It was strongly felt that a concerted effort by the civil society was required to help Pakistan overcome the feeling of dejection and as a result PEAD was founded in 2002.The PEAD Foundation has worked all across Pakistan on educational projects with various target groups, for example young people, women, religious groups - such as madrasa - media and government officials. However the past four years has seen the focus of PEAD Foundation’s work shift to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The war on terrorism followed by natural disasters, such as the earthquake in 2005 and the recent floods of 2010, have struck the KP and FATA regions very hard, and affected young people particularly badly.
While talking about the vulnerability of young people in Pakistan, Sameena highlighted the following facts:
According to the youth ministry, almost 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 25, a ratio higher in areas such as Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and FATA. Poor social conditions precipitated with socio-economic backwardness; poor governance, high population growth, poor education, lack of skill-development, infrastructure facility and little awareness among the parents of how to protect their children from radicalisation has made the youth of these areas very vulnerable to an uninformed, skewed and dangerous intellectual discourse.Therefore, she is of the view that given the situation in the conflict-affect areas of FATA and KP, engagement with young people and providing them with knowledge and skills for an informed point of view was thought to be a good starting point. This formed the basis of the peace education programmes the PEAD Foundation began in KP and FATA.
In the view of Sameena, Pakistan is faced with multi-faceted conflicts - religious, political, social, sectarian, and economic. It is essential to address these conflicts through peacebuilding initiatives at every level of society and to promote better and wider understanding of conflict management, transformation and peacebuilding. This will lead to improvement in internal cohesion and stability, improve the human rights situation, encourage investment, sustainable development and will help reduce poverty in Pakistan.
Peace education has been the PEAD Foundation’s primary focus since its establishment. Over the years the organisation has engaged in numerous projects which focus on the dissemination of peace education through various tools. When asked details of the organisation’s peace education programmes, she added:
We have recently concluded three educational projects on 'Peace Education'. The programmes were aimed at promoting dialogue on peaceful co-existence and to help the target groups develop skills, knowledge and constructive attitudes in order to minimise conflict in the wider community. The projects were implemented in over a 100 government high & higher secondary schools in districts Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda and Mardan of KP.Regarding the impact of PEAD Foundation’s peace education programmes, Sameena shared that it has been observed that those who are trained through the project activities, significantly changed their responses to conflict situations.
Since [the eduction system in Pakistan] does not provide any soft skills to the students and promotes a system of rote learning and one way communication, therefore the students are not confident enough to think analytically and critically.Therefore, PEAD Foundation’s programmes are specially designed to cater to these needs as well. Sameena pointed out that the organisation’s aim is not only to provide these children with a better understanding of peace education but to prepare them for their practical lives so they can become productive and contributing members of the society.
We have received numerous letters of appreciation and there are tens if not hundreds of success stories we have seen first hand over the last eight years. We are constantly receiving letters from those schools and madaris who have heard about our programs from people inviting us to take up similar initiatives in their institutions. The response from all participants and communities with which we have worked has been extremely encouraging and motivating for us and that is what drives us to keep on working with these people.PEAD Foundation is also working on other peacebuilding projects, as Sameena shared:
the organisation is currently working with Save the Children Sweden on a Peace Education Project which is being implemented in schools and madaris in Peshawar district of KP. The project is based on the same model as previously discussed. The students become multipliers and carry the message forward to their respective communities. Peace Groups are created not only in educational institutions but also in the wider community in order to check and monitor any conflicts taking place as well as attempt to resolve those peacefully.She delightfully mentioned that, the PEAD Foundation also takes pride in establishing the Peace Network Pakistan (PNP) which is a joint platform for all NGOs, International NGOs, Community Based Organisations and individuals who are working on peace initiatives in Pakistan. PNP 0provides to all those NGO’s and civil society activists working on peace initiatives a platform to share their experiences and become part of an informed debate on peacebuilding and promotion, with the ultimate objective of creating counter narrative to tackle radicalization, religious extremism and violence in the society.