Four Year 10 students, Carmel Johnson, Hannah Utting, Becky Boyd and Lucy Davis and their Geography teacher Miss Allen got the opportunity to travel to Pakistan after Moulsham High became one of five schools to win a national competition to produce a 15 minute presentation about the country.
The girls won the first prize of a ten day VIP trip to Pakistan starting in Islamabad before going on to Peshawar and then Lahore. Organised by Harlow based IT company Ahkter Computers, the purpose of the trip was to give students an insight into a country which often receives a negative press and allow them to form their own opinions.
The first five days of the trip in Islamabad was a whirlwind of visits. Our first afternoon was spent at a garden party at the High Commissioner’s residence where we sat by the pool and soaked up some much needed sun. Then over the coming days we met some of Pakistan’s most influential people including the Prime Minister, the federal Relief Commissioner in charge of the Earthquake relief effort, the Minister for Education and even the President, General Pervez Musharraf.
|Asking questions to the President.|
A charismatic and friendly man, General Musharraf firstly gave a speech about the history of Pakistan and how he felt about his country and then answered the students’ questions. Becky Boyd asked the President for his views on tackling terrorism in the future, before giving a closing speech and thanking the President on behalf of the Experience Pakistan group. Following the session, General Musharraf stood and spoke to the students and answered more of their questions over tea and cake.
In between meeting these amazing people, the schedule was packed with visits to the most fabulous restaurants with views to die for and food that teased every taste bud in your mouth. The group was also invited to a cultural show by students studying at the Islamabad School. A wonderful evening of colour, dance, singing and laughter, the students from all year groups performed on stage and then encouraged the British students to join them as they tried to teach them how to dance. As British and Pakistani students danced hand in hand, there really were no cultural boundaries.
One of the most peaceful places we visited was the Bhurban Golf Course in Murree. Set to the backdrop of Kashmir, this stunning golf course at 7000 ft was the perfect place to sit back and relax, have a game of cricket on the lawn and smack some golf balls far into the distance. Perfect.
One of the highlights of the trip was taking a steam train along the Khyber Pass and standing at Michni Post looking out into Afghanistan. Travelling through the baron landscape, it was hard to imagine how people could survive in such a harsh environment.
|Hannah and Becky asleep on the Hercules.|
It certainly had an impact on student Becky Boyd. "One of the most incredible days of the experience had to be the Khyber steam safari. We boarded the train with a red carpet reception and anticipated the journey ahead. Children ran alongside the train wanting to catch a glimpse of the rare visitors to their beautiful country. Beyond the horizon the mountains slowly began to appear and went on for as far as the eye could see. Afghanistan was in sight. We arrived at the Khyber Rifles, and all felt the need to stand back and admire the striking surroundings. How is it possible that such a beautiful country can be portrayed in such a negative light? Pakistan hides so many secrets that wait to be discovered. We hope that more people will travel to the country of Pakistan so they too can catch a glimpse of what we had the privilege to experience.”
From Peshawar we flew in a C130 Hercules, courtesy of General Musharraf to Lahore; a fabulous city where life is lived out on the street. On our first evening in Lahore, we travelled to Wagha, the border between Pakistan and India. There we witnessed the flag-lowering ceremony with all the colour and passion that we had anticipated. Whilst there we bumped into the Crowned Price of Jordan, who had been working on the relief effort following the earthquake.
A very personable and happy character, he invited us to a polo match he was playing in the following day. Graciously accepted, the following evening was spent watching Pakistan verses the Jordanian Royal Polo club, before chatting to the Prince as he entertained the group behind the scenes.
On our last day in Lahore we visited a number of schools. One school, Teach a Child, will live in our memories and hearts forever. Set up with an aim to reduce the poverty gap, Teach a Child selects high ability students from the poorest background. Their vision is to give these children a high level of education so that they can become high earners and therefore assist their families both financially and socially, ultimately lifting them out of poverty.
|Outside Badshai Mosque.|
Although it's basic in structure, the school was well equipped with IT facilities and our students were surprised at the level of work the students were learning. In one IT lesson, students were completing similar exercises at the age of 10 that our students were studying for their GCSEs! Now that Moulsham has Humanities College status we are in the process of setting up a partnership with Teach a Child. Moulsham students will have the opportunity to email some of the students, make a documentary about our school to send to them and even work on a collaborative learning project. It’s a very exciting new venture and both sets of students can’t wait to learn about each other’s lives, hopes and dreams.
Einstein once said that 'Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned at school'. Experience Pakistan was an education that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives. From the moment we arrived we were touched by the warmth of the people as they welcomed us with open arms and pride for their country shining in their eyes. As we travelled around Pakistan we realised that the country was like a forgotten jewellery box full of undiscovered treasures just waiting to be found. The country consumed us, seduced us and taught us that judgements and opinions should only be formed based on personal experience; not on stories and assumptions.
What the Students had to say........
"Before the trip we had heard a lot about the country, mainly due to the way the British media has portrayed Pakistan. However, when we arrived our perceptions on every aspect of the country changed completely. It’s a beautiful country with friendly, enthusiastic individuals. The people of Pakistan were so welcoming and eager to learn more about England.
We went as five individual schools from across the country but we returned as one. We had all made friendships that will last a lifetime; not only with the locals we met in Pakistan, but also with the people we shared this unforgettable experience with."
Carmel Johnson on the Flag lowering ceremony at Wagha border:
"We arrived at the border, just enough time before the ceremony to get a closer look over the border into India. We had such an urge to make a run for it across the line but not dare disgruntle the armed guards! We took our seats opposite the men and joined in with the cheers of the enthusiastic elder proudly waving his Pakistani flag. National music blared out from the speakers either side of the border marking the divide of two completely opposite cultures; religion, clothing, music; every aspect different.
|Miss Allen and Carmel outstide a Mosque.|
The ceremony involved vigorous hand shaking, head twitching and firm foot stomping; a well rehearsed performance from both sides. I’m so glad I got the chance to see this incredible ceremony; it had been something I’ve always wanted to see."
"It is only now we have arrived back from Pakistan I think we can appreciate fully the vibrant colour and rich culture of the country. It is strange because in the 10 days I was there I really felt like it became my home. I started to get used to the unfamiliar culture and welcoming people, even the food was becoming normal to me! Thinking back on my experience of this beautiful country, it makes me upset to think that so many people in our society have such a negative opinion of Pakistan. I just wish they too could actually experience the natural beauty and open arms of the country before they judged it.
They say what makes a country is the people living in it, and this is certainly true for Pakistan. The Pakistani people put so much effort into making sure we felt welcome everywhere we went, we were even given flowers round our necks and gifts. I remember every single school we visited and the way that the young children presented us each with a rose. My friend was intrigued by this so she asked one of the children why it was that they gave us a rose and the little boy answered 'it is a sign of love'. Everywhere we visited whether it be a school or the Presidency, people never stopped telling us how honoured they were that we were there and that they were meeting us. I was humbled by this because in fact I felt it was me who was honoured to meet them!
I miss the laid back attitudes of the Pakistani people. It used to make me giggle inside when we passed random people sitting in the middle of the field like they had all day to do nothing. However the people there are not so laid back when it comes to shopping! The shopping centres were manic! All the shops were small fronted, long corridors and jam-packed with products and eager customers. We couldn’t help but get stuck in and spend, spend, spend!"
Lucy Davis on visiting the schools:
"The morning was very emotional knowing that this was the last day of the trip as well as the visit to TAC (teach a child) school project. They were very lively and were very proud to have the opportunity to see us. All the children preformed an hour long show for us including them dressing up in colourful outfits.
The next school we visited was the cathedral school. The girls’ school band serenaded us! This trip also gave us the chance to talk with Pakistani school children who asked for our autographs!
The evening was free for a group activity. We planned to do a fashion show, which went well considering it was thought out roughly. Some people helped backstage, some were photographers whilst the others were on the catwalk. At the end some of the organizers gave speeches and the students were presented with medals.
In the late evening, we had another shopping spree, as well as a meal out. All the students stayed up late into the morning trying to saver the moment of excitement!"