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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 13:31 GMT
One day in Pakistan: Views and news

Tazeem AkhtarSumaira HussainSyed Tanvir Mohammad ShahShahnez BibiAshfaq Hussain ShahSyed Shaheryara Ahmed

Pakistan map
People in Pakistan have been replying to e-mails from BBC News website readers about what life is like in their troubled country.

Find out more: Q&A: Pakistan's political crisis.

Above are six people from the village of Mehra Sharif, near the capital, Islamabad. Click on the photos of the villagers to read more about them. These people and six others from Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, have been replying to your questions on our website and on BBC World TV.


Photo:Mehra Sharif village
See a 360-degree panorama of Mehra Sharif village

The village of Mehra Sharif is a settlement of some 5,000 people in Pakistan's largest province, Punjab. It is 40 km (25 miles) south-west of the capital, Islamabad, and dates back some 300 years.

The village, like many in the Punjab, is centred on a shrine, with the leading family believed to be descendents of a saint buried there. Most people are farmers or labourers.

They are heavily dependent on rainfall as there is no regular supply of water, either for the fields or their homes. There is a desperate battle here to live "a respectable life" as booming inflation is cutting into growing, but still limited, incomes.

Population: 5,000
Province: Punjab
Schools: 2 primary
Energy: electricity, firewood
Communications: Telephone, internet
The village is not cut off from modern benefits. It has electricity, a telephone network and internet connections. But there is no gas connection and most of the cooking and heating is still done over firewood.

There are two primary schools, one for boys and one girls, as well as a couple of private schools. Government secondary schools for boys and girls are five kilometres away. Education is a high priority, even among those who can barely afford it.

Everybody says they want their children to study to have a chance of a better life. So girls and boys are accorded equal opportunity. But education fees are a big issue. Girls in particular are keen on higher studies, but the absence of a local college is a problem. Most boys opt out after getting their secondary certificate, at the age of 14 or 15, to work on the family farm.


When I watch (television), it sometimes makes me wonder how far ahead the world is

"It's hard, but I guess it's our lot in life," says the sprightly Tazeem Akhtar. "And it's not as bad as it seems."

She typically works 12-14 hours of hard labour a day. "We also own a cow from whom we get some milk," she adds. The joint wages of Tazeem and her husband barely suffice for their four daughters and one son, all of whom are at school.

The boy is at a private school - "but we are increasingly finding it difficult to make things meet". Inflation is hitting hard. Tazeem says she used to be able get by on 1,000 to 1,300 rupees a month ($17-$22).

"Now even 3,000 is not enough. Bus fares are exorbitant, bread prices are outrageous. When my children are unwell, we have to take them to Rawalpindi by hiring a car for 500-600 rupees ($8- $10). Water has to be carried in from a kilometre away. When I watch (television), it sometimes makes me wonder how far ahead the world is and how far behind we are."


Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah
Water is the biggest issue now.
This lack of potable water has led to diseases among the children

"We have come far but we have far to go", says Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah. Shah Sahib, as the villagers affectionately call him, is the unofficial head of the village.

This is partly because the village gets its name from the shrine of his ancestor who was a Syed. Syeds claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad.

Shah Sahib has also served as elected mayor in the area. He believes his greatest contribution was in changing villagers' attitudes. He says nobody would agree to send their daughters to school until they were convinced otherwise. "We understood that once children started getting educated, they would create the change themselves."

"Girls and boys would go to learn the Koran by heart in the local mosque. They still do that, but we have also convinced their parents of the importance of a worldly education. We are proud to be Pakistanis. This is a new century and we have come into it with a new thinking."


Shahnaz Bibi
Shahnaz wants better education opportunities for village children

Shahnaz Bibi, a widow, is a union council member.

"I have no children, and thus responsibilities of my own, so I put in that time helping everybody else."

Bibi says education roads and electricity have improved things a lot. But she says there are many still many problems. For example, the local health unit provides only "basic facilities".

"All they have is a first aid kit, and some medicine for fever and flu. If there is a real medical emergency, the patient has to be taken 20 km to Rawalpindi." Costs can be prohibitive.

She is also concerned that inflation is
We need a proper hospital in the area with a maternity home
making it harder for children to continue in education. Bibi wants a higher educational institute set up for Mehra Sharif and nearby villages. "At least then our children will have a chance."


Ashfaq Hussain Shah
Mr Shah's school has 150 students and 10 teachers

Mr Shah, a senior teacher at the local government secondary school, moved back to the village 14 years ago after teaching in the city of Rawalpindi, even though the money was better in the city.

"It was a conscious decision. I wanted to make my contribution here." And, he adds wistfully, he missed the open fields and country life.

Mr Shah says he has no regrets.

"People are getting their children educated even if they have to starve themselves. The village children are as talented as any I taught in Rawalpindi. The only difference is the lack of opportunities and facilities."

In the past, the thinking went that girls should sit at home and only do household work.
That situation does not exist anymore

While Mr Shah says he is satisfied with life, finances remain a problem. "If a teacher has other things in his mind, then he will not be able to give his all when the child needs it the most."

After 20 years of service as a government teacher, Mr Shah earns 11,000 rupees ($180) a month. Most teachers get 5-6,000 rupees, making them some of the lowest paid professionals.


Sumaira has been teaching at a private school

Sumaira Hussain is the third child in a family of four, born to illiterate labourers in Mehra Sharif. Her father died when she was seven and it would have been no surprise had she been married just into her teens, like her mother.

But mother and daughter had other ideas. "She was dead set, and I encouraged her in any way I could," says Parveen, her mother. "If we had money, I would have got them all educated."

Sumaira a bright student, managed to get her fees waived till she was 13 years old in Grade 8. Then she gave private lessons at home to help pay her way. She earns 800 rupees ($13) a month. Sumaira has enrolled for a degree through a state run subscription course.
I wanted to get admission in the college in Rawalpindi, but the fees are too high. I have to support my family as well

"I also got a diploma in Arabic from Rawalpindi. I have been teaching at a private school for last year and a half.
"I wanted to get admission in the college in Rawalpindi, but the fees are too high. I have to support my family as well."


  Syed Shaheryar Ahmed
Farmer Shaheryar says he is getting the hang of his business and things are good
Syed Shaheryar Ahmed is a quiet young man, who has lived almost all his life in Mehra Sharif. He studied in Rawalpindi for his secondary education, but has not been back since.

"I have been managing the farm since the death of my uncle two years ago," says Shaheryar, a fish and poultry farmer.

He admits that doing it on his own was a bit of a struggle at first. He has no regrets about not following his friends to the city.

"A lot of my friends... don't come back, especially after finishing high school or graduation. There is a lack of jobs for educated people here."

We have our problems, but then so does the city. Besides, there is no place like home
In a land where water is often scarce, setting up a fish farm may seem a Utopian idea. But, Shaheryar explains, it is drinking water that is the problem: "There are streams in the area, and we have dammed some. The catchment serves as a breeding ground for the fish."

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