Posted On: Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Risham Waseem chats with students at Garfield Middle School.

Having spent the summer reading “I am Malala,” Harding and Garfield middle school students brought their questions about the young Pakistani education crusader and the struggles of girls in Pakistan directly to someone living in the country who is fighting for the same cause as the Nobel Peace winner Malala Yousafzai.

Thanks to the wonders of Google Hangout, the student bodies of the two middle schools were connected live with documentary maker Risham Waseem to ask questions about the challenges of life in Pakistan since the Taliban began destroying schools and barring girls from receiving an education.

The chat with Risham was made possible thanks to a connection she had with a Harding student’s family. Risham was on a fellowship with the U.S. State Department at Case Western Reserve University last year and met the aunt of Harding student Lila Wright. Risham attended several Wright family events and through those social gatherings Lila learned that Risham’s family had met Malala’s family. When Lila learned that middle schoolers would be reading “I am Malala” over the summer, the idea to video-chat with Risham, who had since returned to Pakistan, was born. Harding social studies teacher Kevin Spooner immediately took to the idea and the end result was the multi-school hookup with Risham.

Prior to chatting with Risham, students watched an edited version of the film “Burning Paradise,” about the plight of Pakistani girls’ education and schools under the Taliban regime. The film was produced by the company Risham works for and re-edited by her for our students. Following the film, three students from each middle school asked a question of Risham. She shared with the more than 1,000 students and staff answers to question such as, “What do you like to do for fun in Pakistan,” “How is your life different now from before the Taliban regime?” and “How is it different living in the U.S. than Pakistan?”

What the students learned from Risham was that she is not much different than them, enjoying many of the same pastimes – sports and watching Netflix – and that people in Pakistan want the same things as those in the U.S., namely “the best things for ourselves, the best things for our families.” She did, however, make the students aware that they should not take their education for granted as many girls have been robbed of theirs in Pakistan, although she is not one of them. Because she has been fortunate to live in a part of Pakistan that is not under siege and come from a family that emphasizes and encourages education, she feels emboldened to fight for the same cause as Malala: education equality for girls.

The video chat was the culmination of a week of summer reading activities in the classroom. The goal is to keep the idea of making a difference as Malala has alive throughout the school year with students finding personal causes to help make a difference in their community.

Harding student Simon Thompson asks Risham Waseem a question.

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