Towards food sovereignty

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

For three years now, a programme called the Green Economics and Globalization Initiative launched by an NGO, Shirkat Gah, has been working to create “economic literacy” among the people. The goal is to promote the concept of urban farming which can make a large number of people self-sufficient in food.

It is stated that a quarter acre of land can grow enough food to feed a family, while half an acre will give a surplus. And one acre of cultivated land can make a family affluent.
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Success story of Morocco

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

Morocco won the country award for 2004 given by the Population Institute, Washington, annually to the country whose population programme has shown good results in the preceding year.

Morocco was adjudged the best, and if any proof of this were needed, it is expected to show in the report of the census held recently in that country. The report will be released shortly.

The census commissioner stated that he had the preliminary findings of the census. The comprehensive results will come in several months later. The results indicate that Morocco’s population growth rate is down to 1.6 per cent. It was 1.9 per cent previously.
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NGOs role in education

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

The gravity of the education crisis is indeed mind-boggling. If one were to only identify the problems that need to be addressed in this area, the list would be unending. It includes the standard of pedagogy and the quality of curricula and textbooks.

Similarly, there are as many solutions and strategies that are offered. The managers of private schools, especially the elite ones, feel they could perform very well if they were left to run their institutions as they wished. They believe that the government would do better to mind its own schools and improve their performance.
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The debate must continue

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

The national debate on Kashmir which President Pervez Musharraf had called for appears to be running out of steam. Now the president, who saw light at the end of the tunnel only a few weeks ago, has been speaking of vibes that are not “encouraging” from India.

A month ago – on October 25 to be precise – the president had suggested at an Iftar party that new options be explored since the status quo in Kashmir was unacceptable. To kickstart the debate he had suggested that various regions in Kashmir be identified in terms of their local culture and demographic composition and then be demilitarized.
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Denationalization: why this delay?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

While the Sindh education department has dragged its feet over issuing the notification of the cabinet decision to transfer the St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s colleges (SJC and SPC) to the Catholic Board, some quarters have continued to protest against the move.

Statements issued by the nazim of Karachi and the Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association (SPLA) have created much uncertainty. Why they are trying to stall the move is intriguing, especially when the arguments advanced by them do not carry weight.
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Nowhere close to Cairo goals

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

How many of us remember the population conference held in Cairo in September 1994? Some of us may recall the rumpus created by the religious lobbies when it was indicated that Benazir Bhutto, who was then the prime minister – for the second time – would be attending the summit. She must be given credit for her courage. Not only did she go to Cairo, she also made a spirited speech in support of family planning.
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No time to listen

By Zubeida Mustafa

Do you remember the attractive little child with a charming smile and a lovely voice who appeared with Suhail Rana on television for a children’s musical programme, “Sang sang challein”, week after week in the seventies?

Mothers whose kids were young three decades ago would recall Afshan Ahmad for she was the heart- throb of every child who watched TV in those days – as well as of their mothers. Well, Afshan Ahmad is now a young lady with the same charming smile and lovely voice. She has two children of her own. She still remains the heart-throb of children though she doesn’t appear on TV any more. She runs a Montessori school and knows how to charm the young ones who come to her.

I find Afshan an extraordinary person. She has talent and a very pleasing personality. But popularity and fame have not gone to her head. What distinguishes her more than that is her tremendous love for children. She was complaining the other day that as a society we do not care for children and I agree with her fully.

Afshan would love to revive her weekly musical programme for children, but no one seems to be interested. “No finances”, the television channels proclaim and move on to the loud, horrendous pop music you get to hear today. No more are children listening to songs such as “Dosti aisa naata/Jo sonay say bhee mehnga”. Or do you remember “Sang sang chaltay rahna/Hans kay har dukh sehna” or the perennially popular “Daak babu daak babu mera khat lay jao/Nani Amman ko day aao”. My children learnt their Urdu alphabets sitting before the TV singing “Yaad karein hum sub mil kay/Jaldi say apni alif, bay, pay” with Afshan on the mini screen.

Afshan says she would love to record an album of songs for children but sponsors are generally not interested. She has recorded one album for a food company. Otherwise those who finance such things feel it is not a project worth investing in. As a result, children who have a natural love for music and rhythm are entertaining themselves with songs which are hardly the sort they should be singing.

In the process they are being robbed of their childish innocence. Or may be things such as the “Daak Babu” is something unfamiliar to them today. They would know more about the e-mail and the webmaster rather than the postmaster! But Nani Ammans are still around and friendship and love are values still to be cherished. Above all children still love music.

Why is it that as a society we neglect our children, though on an individual level we tend to indulge in them turning out thoroughly spoilt brats in the process? The fact is that on a collective level, anything which concerns children does not receive the attention it deserves. May be because children cannot protest as adults can. And adults have so many problems of their own that they forget their child’s needs.

Why have our schools been allowed to be reduced to such a pathetic condition that parents don’t want to send their children there any more? Just look at the falling enrolment in government schools. Why can’t we have more parks and playgrounds for the little ones to run around and play their cricket in without being endangered by a speeding car or endangering pedestrians on the roadside?

It is not just the poor who bear the brunt of this negligence. At a workshop on mental health it was pointed out that children in school – even the high brow elite schools – have no provision for counselling on their personal problems. In today’s competitive and consumerist world children are exposed to greater stress than they were ever before. Starting from the race for school admissions, private tuitions (more as a status symbol than any thing else), the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, the excessive exposure to television and the lack of exercise and games to help them let out their pent-up youthful energies, how can any one believe that children are not under severe mental and emotional stress.

You just have to look around to see what is happening. A young girl who got admission in one of the good A-levels schools after passing her O-levels was agonizing on how her parents would pay Rs 85,000 they were expected to produce in a couple of days if they didn’t want their daughter’s admission to be cancelled. Another young boy committed suicide when he failed his exams because he felt he had let down his parents who were investing their lifetime’s savings to educate him.

Yet schools – sometimes they themselves are the source of stress — don’t think much about the problems children have to grapple with. Why should they reduce their profit margins by employing counsellors to help children cope with the stress in their life? Their senior teachers act as counsellors. I asked one of them what they advised the children about. “The problem they face in their studies,” she promptly replied. Some are counselling them about the foreign universities they should seek admission to and so on.

A Montessori directress who is training Montessori teachers, the only one in Pakistan qualified to do so – of course we have many pseudo trainers around – said a number of her students are poring out their personal problems before her. She says she just has to give them a sympathetic hearing and it works wonders with them. All that is wanted is someone who has the time to listen.

Source: Dawn

Doing more for mental health

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

Last week, the Pakistan Association for Mental Health (PAMH) observed the mental health week to coincide with the world mental health day on October 10 organized globally by the World Federation for Mental Health and WHO. This is an annual event.

Much as cynics might be tempted to brush it off as a ritual which has no impact, any discerning observer of the scene cannot fail to note the awareness which has been created in Pakistan, thanks to the endeavours of the PAMH.
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Jirgas: defying the court

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been rendering useful service to society by acting as a watchdog body to monitor human rights violations in Pakistan. Apart from the annual report it publishes every year to document the state of human rights in the country, the HRCP also studies various issues of special concern to the people at a given time and prepares reports on them to create public awareness and thus generate pressure on the government to take requisite measures.
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State of college education

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

There has been one positive outcome of the so-called college denationalization debate that has raged ever since the Sindh government announced its decision to “transfer” the St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s colleges to their original owners. Public attention has been focused on the state of college education in the country.

Given the unrealistic nature of some of the claims and allegations made by the parties, which are resisting the transfer of these colleges, it is important to put the issue in correct perspective. The arguments advanced by the critics of denationalization are:
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