The Gawri language community
The country of Pakistan is known for its colorful diversity of cultures and languages. This ethnic diversity characterizes the country as a whole, but culminates in the mountainous North, where fast-flowing streams and high mountain ranges create natural barriers that impede mobility and communication.
One of the people groups in that area are the Gawri, a unique linguistic and ethnic group with a long history, who about a thousand years ago were pushed back by invading Afghan armies from the fertile, lower areas, up to the rugged, upper reaches of two mountain valleys, in an area called Kalam and Dir Kohistan. Nowadays, the Gawri struggle hard for their existence, in a country where two-thirds of the population lives in modest to extreme poverty anyway.
For Gawri children, education is essential if they are to have opportunities when they grow up to find work and earn an income. However, these children do not speak the general languages when they enter school, and often drop out of the current school system because they do not understand the languages in which the subject matter is taught.
Multi-Lingual Education project
The Gawri Community Development Program (GCDP) is a local, officially registered, non-governmental organization which is dedicated to community development in the region of Kalam through provision of education and health facilities.
Among other activities, GCDP is currently engaged in a significant effort in the Kalam area, which aims at the introduction and acceptance of mother-tongue-based, multi-lingual education (MLE). In the classes administered by this project, children begin to learn to read, write, and do math in their own native language (Gawri), while in the course of the program the important languages of wider communication (Urdu and English) are gradually introduced.
In August 2008, two pilot schools were started in the Kalam area. The teachers in both schools used multi-lingual curriculum materials that had been developed by the project team. By April 2011, the first batch of students finished the 3-year program, and many of them continued their education in grade 2 and higher in the government school system. Currently, five MLE classes are in progress in different locations in the Kalam area, catering to a total of approximately 120 young students.
Whereas the initial MLE efforts were regarded with indifference, if not hostility, by most of the Gawri community, now that the classes are in operation and students who have gone through the program do well in the government school system, a watershed change of attitude seems to have happened in the community, as witnessed by continuing requests for more MLE classes, as well as the overwhelming attendance each year at the celebration of World Literacy Day.
GCDP resources and competence
GCDP currently employs fourteen staff members, one of which is based in Islamabad, while the others are based on the field. There are five teachers (employed full-time), two school supervisors (each one half-time), two field officers (full-time) who are responsible for curriculum development, field operations, community relations, and the Kalam office, plus additional support staff working in the areas of bookkeeping, maintenance, and government relations. The GCDP field staff is well-trained and experienced, competent to train and help new teachers and supervise MLE programs.
One of GCDP’s primary partners is the Forum for Language Initiatives (FLI) in Islamabad, which through its workshops and training programs plays a crucial role in the development of staff for the MLE project and in providing guidance in the areas of program planning and development of MLE curriculum materials. As FLI is involved in providing support for MLE programs in other languages as well, it provides a platform where staff from different projects meet and exchange ideas and experience.
GCDP’s other primary partner is SIL International. SIL is the primary source of funding for GCDP’s MLE project. SIL also provides technical consulting on an occasional basis.