A group of UNM graduate students are facilitating access to education for girls going to school in Pakistan and Afghanistan — two countries marred by war and violence.

The students provide lectures to girls in primary schools in Pakistan and facilitate their access to an education by providing financial support.

Qasim Raza, a computer science graduate student who initiated the project, said that that there is a need to empower women in areas hit by conflict.

“We noticed that access to education can drastically change lives of people in underdeveloped countries especially in the conflict zones,” he said.

Raza said that access to education for girls was more important for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, since that can provide them agency and empower them economically.

He said that he and his friends were trying to figure out how to serve girls from underprivileged communities for a long time.

“We decided to help girls of Pakistan and Afghanistan both academically and financially,” he said.

According to A World at School, an organization campaigning for access to education for all young boys and girls, the Pakistani government spends a mere two percent of its budget on education. As a result, the country has the “second largest number of out of school children in the world.”

It is not any better in Afghanistan. There, according to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, as few as three percent of young girls attended school while the Taliban were in control of the region.

Yasir Hussain, a linguistics graduate student, said that empowering girls in those areas means, in turn, empowering entire families.

“There are girls who lost parents in the war, who lost brothers. We feel the only way to empower them is to improve their access to the educational system and guide them throughout their primary and secondary education,” he said.

Hussain said that when he and his friends shared their idea with other friends from south Asia, they joined in, and now they have a bunch of volunteers.

“I have expertise in teaching English as a secondary language, so I share my experiences with them. I help them improve their English language skills at the very basic level,” he said.

Raza said that he teaches basic computer classes over Skype twice a month.

“We are having Internet problems but currently we are managing things with the help of our friends in these countries,” he said.

Raza and his friends plan to extend the scope of the programs in the future, he said

Hussain said that they are also providing financial support for some kids so that they are actually able go to their schools.

“We can teach kids who are already in the schools, but what about those who cannot attend schools just because of the minor financial issues? Some cannot afford to buy school uniforms, pencils, books, etc. We help them get those things,” he said.

Hussain said that even if he and his friends could slightly improve the lives of a few families in an atmosphere that is tough to endure, that would be a great achievement.

Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the DailyLobo. He can be contacted at assistant-news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.