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Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Friday, 7 August 2009 17:04 UK

Back to school in Pakistan's Swat valley

By Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

Ambrin Rashid studying
The girls have returned to school after three months

Two million people were displaced in May when Pakistan's army began renewed fighting against the Taliban in the Swat valley.

Since then, more than 350,000 refugees have returned to their homes, following government assurances that the area is now "safe".

The BBC World Service's Outlook programme spoke to local journalist Adnan Rashid, who fled the area along with 15 of his relatives.

He has now returned to Mingora, the capital of Swat, where he accompanied his little sister and niece on their first day back to school after three months away.

"They're both excited about seeing all their friends again," said Adnan. "When we came back the situation wasn't good, I went to some of the markets but none of the food stalls was open.

"But now we are seeing children preparing to go back to school."

Female students have been particularly happy about going back to school as they were banned by extremists, only a few months ago.

"This is a good thing for them because it means they won't have to think about the sounds of shelling and firing, they will be able to concentrate on their studies," he added.

Overjoyed

As he took his sister and niece to their studies, Mr Rashid confessed to feeling a bit apprehensive, because normally the streets are bustling with school vans and buses.

Ambrin and  Shadaab going back to school
Girls were banned from getting an education by extremists

Adnan's sister, Ambrin, is in the sixth grade at school and was totally overjoyed at the prospect of getting back to her studies.

"When we arrived back home on 17 July, I went straight to my bedroom to see my schoolbag and notebook, I'd missed them so much.

"As soon as the governor announced that the schools would be open, I packed my schoolbag in anticipation.

"Today I feel proud and happy that I am going to school again but at the same time I'm frightened, as there was a ban on girl's education in Swat.

"That's why I've covered myself up in a burka, so that no one can object," she said.

Although attendance was not great on the first day, Ambrin enjoyed chatting to her friends and played badminton in the playground.

"The teacher said that normal classes will start again from Monday, I'm optimistic that all my classmates will be back at school from then," she said.

I thought I'd lost my future but thanks to the Almighty Allah, it looks brighter again
Shadaab Saleem

"Hopefully Allah may help us to make our schooling normal and no-one will be able to ban it again."

Shadaab Saleem, who is a ninth grade student, was just as overjoyed.

"I'll be even happier when I meet my friends and teachers who I've missed. It's a remarkable day, no words can describe my feelings.

"During the crisis I thought I'd lost my future but thanks to the Almighty Allah, it looks brighter again," she said.

On reflection

As the students came in for morning assembly, they warmly asked each other where and how they spent the last three months.

"When I walked into my school and found the building standing straight, my heart filled with joy," said Shadaab.

It's the new dawn that the people of Swat are waiting for
Adnan Rashid

"When I saw my teacher and classmates we welcomed each other with tears of happiness.

"There used to be curtains in the female part of the school, they've now been removed, this shows that things are now getting back to normality and peace. There is no fear here anymore," she added.

Adnan felt that the opening of the schools in Swat is not only good news for them but also for the rest of the world.

"The people of Swat are looking to a strong education system because our future depends on it.

"Perhaps it's the new dawn that the people of Swat are waiting for."



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