Our new friend, Dr Suleman Lalani, from Texas (USA) is the chairman of a NFP (AKFUSA.ORG and AKDN.ORG). They are working in over 20 countries and in Hunza they work with the Aga Khan Foundation and he organised for us to go and see some of the projects in action.
We we collected by the local and regional Managers, from the Hunza View Hotel and taken by 4 wheel drive to a prestigious girls school, Aga Khan Secondary School in Hunza. Here the female Principal (an alumni of the school) took us on a tour of the library, a biology classroom, yr 9 computer lab and a general yr 9 class. She then took us to the hostel where some of the girls board and we saw their dormitories and were treated to a delicious morning tea in dinning room. Vince and I were sitting next to her for morning tea and we got to ask her some questions about the changes in Pakistan and the girls education in general. The school’s focus is on Science, particularly pre medicine and engineering studies. Each year they have around 700 applicants and they select the top 45. The school currently has around 175 students from yr 8 – 12. The grounds and views were stunning and all the students we met were bright and cheerful. These girls will go on to become Doctors and Engineers. Scholarships are available so that money is not an issue for those who are accepted.
Next we were driven to the Kado 1 Training Centre where local women learn to cut and polish local gems and set them in silver. They learn a full range of jewellery design including rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and necklaces. I saw some gorgeous aquamarines (my birthstone) but as I had not brought my purse that was the end of that. Any item that is sold gives 60% to the artisan (for labour) and 40% goes to the foundation to cover costs. The centre has developed a reputation and people are keen to be trained there. They also make custom orders for weddings etc.
We then went by car, along to CIQAM, which is a woodworking centre, where less educated women are able to learn practical woodwork skills. They build furniture through to using up the leftovers to make letters, spoons and smaller items for sale. We also so some construction work that the women had been involved in as part of the restoration of the historic old town settlement of Altit, which won a UNESCO World Heritage award in 2007 by the Aga Khan Cultural Services – Pakistan. We were given a tour through the settlement, which was absolutely fascinating and we met many beautiful, happy children and colourful women along the way.
We had a walking tour of the Altit Fort, which was very special….extremely cool inside….with very small and low doorways (a strategic move to make enemies have to enter one by one in a crouching position). The views were amazing, including the view over the settlement roofs that we had just walked through. We were treated to a lovely lunch in the cafe thanks to the generosity of our hosts.
We then got back in the cars and off to Baltit Fort. We could only go part way and we had to walk up a very steep hill….which just about killed me……I am so unfit! The view was lovely, and going down was so much easier. The group went on to Eagles Nest, but Vince and I went back to our hotel because I had an URGENT tummy problem…..time for the Gastro Stop!