Khamis, 6 Mac 2014

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

'We cannot close our eyes': Pakistani girls get groundbreaking sex ed class

Posted: 04 Mar 2014 12:05 AM PST

In a poverty-stricken village in deeply conservative rural Pakistan, Muslim girls are getting the chance to protect and defend their bodies with a controversial sex education project.

In neat rows, the Pakistani girls in white headscarves listened carefully as the teacher described the changes in their bodies. When the teacher asked what they should do if a stranger touched them, the class erupted.

"Scream!" one called out.

"Bite!" another suggested.

"Scratch really hard with your nails!" a third said.

Sex education is common in Western schools but these groundbreaking lessons are taking place in deeply conservative rural Pakistan, a Muslim nation of 180 million people. Publicly talking about sex in Pakistan is taboo and can even be a death sentence. Parents have slit their daughters' throats or doused them in acid for crimes as innocuous as dancing at a wedding or looking out the window.

Almost nowhere in Pakistan offers any kind of organised sex education. In some places it has been banned. But teachers operating in the village of Johi in poverty-stricken Sindh province say most families there support their sex education project.

Around 700 girls are enrolled in eight local schools run by the Village Shadabad Organisation. Their sex education lessons – starting at age eight – cover changes in their bodies, what their rights are and how to protect themselves. "We cannot close our eyes," says Akbar Lashari, head of the organisation. "It's a topic people don't want to talk about but it's fact of our life."

Lashari said most of the girls in the villages used to hit puberty without realising they will begin to menstruate or they got married without understanding the mechanics of sex. The lessons even teach the girls about marital rape – a revolutionary idea in Pakistan, where forcing a spouse to have sex is not a crime. "We tell them their husband can't have sex with them if they are not willing," Lashari says.

The lessons are an addition to regular classes and parents are told before they enrol their daughters. None has objected and the school has faced no opposition, Lashari said. The eight schools received sponsorship from BHP Billiton, an Australian company that operates a nearby gas plant, but Lashari said sex education was the villagers' own idea.

A teacher displays a flash card with an illustration depicting a student molested by a teacher, while describing measures to take when sexual harassment occurs.

Teacher Sarah Baloch, whose yellow shalwar khameez brightens up the dusty schoolyard, said she hoped to help girls understand what growing up meant. "When girls start menstruating they think it is shameful and don't tell their parents and think they have fallen sick," she says.

Baloch teaches at a tiny school of three brick classrooms. A fourth class is held outside because there are so many girls. Three girls cram into each seat made for two, listening attentively to Baloch. One flashcard shows a girl stopping an old man from touching her leg. Other cards encourage girls to tell their parents or friends if someone is stalking them.

The girls are shy but the lessons have sunk in. "My body is only mine and only I have the rights on it. If someone touches my private parts I'll bite or slap him in the face," says 10-year-old Uzma Panhwar defiantly as she blushes.

The lessons also cover marriage. "Our teacher has told us everything that we'll have to do when we get married. Now we've learned what we should do and what not," says Sajida Baloch, 16, staring at the ground.

Some of Pakistan's most prominent schools, including the prestigious Beaconhouse School System, have been considering the type of sex education practised in Johi. "Girls feel shy to talk to their parents about sex," says Roohi Haq, director of studies at Beaconhouse.

There is definitely demand. Lahore-based Arshad Javed has written three books on sex education and said he sells about 7,000 per year. None are sold to schools. But not everyone agrees with the lessons, partly because young people were not supposed to have sex before adulthood. Recently the government forced the elite Lahore Grammar School to remove all sex education from its curriculum.

"It is against our constitution and religion," says Mirza Kashif Ali, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, which says it represents more than 152,000 institutions across the country. "What's the point of knowing about a thing you're not supposed to do? It should not be allowed at school level."

In neighbouring India, many government schools formally offer sex education but Pakistani government schools have no such plans. Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, the education minister for Sindh province, was shocked to hear of the lessons. "Sex education for girls? How can they do that? That is not part of our curriculum, whether public or private," he says.

But Tahir Ashrafi, who heads an alliance of moderate clerics called the Pakistan Ulema Council, said such lessons were permissible under Islamic law as long as they were segregated and confined to theory. "If the teachers are female, they can give such information to girls in the limits of Sharia," he says. – Reuters.

Bedtime struggles

Posted: 27 Feb 2014 10:03 PM PST

Do you have any suggestions for getting a toddler to bed? It's a miserable struggle at our house because our son fights us every step of the way. When he does finally get to sleep, it's not unusual for him to be up several times during the night, requesting water or a snack or begging to be allowed to sleep in our bed. We're at our wits'end!

Sleep problems in young children of toddler age and older should be handled with care. They may be due to any of a number of different causes, some serious, others not. (Keep in mind that our comments here do not apply to infants, since the sleep patterns of babies are a very different matter.) At this stage of a child's development, restlessness or an inability or unwillingness to fall asleep may, in some cases, be a sign of emotional distress. But this is not always true. Sleeplessness is sometimes due to physical causes, such as allergies or nutritional deficiencies. For this reason, we suggest you begin by discussing the situation with a qualified nutritionist or your child's physician. 

If your pediatrician or family doctor concludes that you are dealing with a mere behavioral problem, we recommend that you take action to break the pattern as soon as possible. The longer it continues, the harder it will be to change. 

Due to their more active temperament, boys tend to have a harder time calming themselves down and getting to sleep than girls. For this reason, it's wise to steer them away from boisterous or rowdy games (like "wrestling with Daddy") for at least an hour before bedtime. The same applies to television, which has a highly stimulating effect on young brains. 

An appropriate bedtime routine is extremely important for both boys and girls. To achieve the level of calm that promotes sleep and rest, they should be allowed a period of "winding down" before hitting the sack. This means intentionally making evenings a quiet and restful time in your home. It might involve reading a book together or singing lullabies. Sometimes it's helpful to buy an inexpensive CD player for the bedroom and let your son or daughter listen to some soothing music before falling asleep. You can also make use of a night light (be sure that it doesn't cast any scary shadows on the wall) and have your child pick out a stuffed animal to be his or her special "bedtime buddy," providing comfort and security when you're not there. 

If your child is getting up several times during the night, take steps to encourage him to return to his bed and stay there. Instead of scolding, ask questions like, "What do you need in order to go to sleep?" This will give your child a sense of empowerment. Once the request has been made (a night light, a stuffed toy or a goodnight kiss) grant it immediately and escort him back to his room. A few words of comfort and reassurance from Mom or Dad are appropriate, but don't overdo it. Above all, make it clear that he will not be staying with you for the night — it is definitely not a good idea for you to sleep in your child's room or to let him sleep in your bed. That will only reinforce the behavior you're trying to eliminate, encouraging him to act helpless and dependent. 

Once you've set your boundaries, stand by them, even if it means allowing your to child cry it out for one or two nights. This isn't easy, but once a child realises that you aren't going to give in, the first of many battles of the will has been won, and the necessary adjustments will soon be made. If, on the other hand, you let him have his own way, you will establish a pattern of manipulation that will make parenting a much harder task in the days ahead.

This article is courtesy of Focus on the Family.

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Posted: 27 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

It's getting harder to care for the disadvantaged with rising costs and dwindling funds.

THEIR meals are mostly rice and vegetables, but the 30 children at Ephrata home do not complain.

They know times are hard, and their caretaker Christina Soosai cannot afford to buy chicken and vegetables.

"They don't ask for anything. We don't have that many toys to entertain them with. When it's playtime, they make up their own games. This year, we could not buy them school books. It breaks my heart to see them wear clothes that are old and worn-out, but we really cannot afford to shop for these little luxuries," shares Christina who set up the home in 2005 to take in orphans, abandoned children and runaways.

"It's been a struggle, but we somehow managed to scrape by from year to year. Recently though, we've hit a brick wall. The funds just aren't coming in as much as we want them to. We want to give the kids better food, but we can't afford to do so. All we can do is ensure that they have something to fill their tummies with," says Christina, 42.

Despite the difficulties, Christina Soosai is determined to care for the children at Ephratha home.

Despite the difficulties, Christina Soosai is determined to care for the children at Ephratha home.

The children, aged between four and 18, have growing appetites, and feeding them is Christina's biggest concern.

"To be able to feed the children, we would need five chickens, and that is hard to come by. Most of the time, we settle on a vegetarian diet because meat and fish are expensive," says Christina. Their refrigerator was bare except for the ingredients for dinner that evening.

The children's main source of carbohydrates comes from wholemeal bread loaves generously sponsored by a local bread shop. A slice spread thinly with margarine and a sprinkle of sugar often counts as a meal for them.

Inspired by her mother's contributions to the less fortunate, Christina has been running the children's home for almost a decade.

Ephratha does not receive government aid, but is supported by Christina's family and some do-gooders. Christina is a pastor and her husband works as a maintenance man at a golf club. Their eldest daughter Marina, 27, has since stopped working to look after the children while their son Joshua, 21, chips in with his salary as a human resource clerk.

The rise in the costs of living has been hard-hitting on the home. Their expenditures have gone up and requests for donations have been met with silence. Sponsorship is hard to come by these days.

Fortunately, since the beginning of the year, the rental and utility bills for Ephratha are now taken care of by Joshua's employers, construction company Eversendai.

Bare essentials: The family-run shelter is running on empty when it comes to feeding the children.

Bare essentials: The family-run shelter is running on empty when it comes to feeding the children.

While that has taken a load off Christina's worries, it still costs RM7,600 to run the shelter monthly, and that's not inclusive of additional expenses like medical bills for some of the children who have asthma and other ailments.

"We do get monetary contributions from time to time, but I can never say for sure when the money will come in. We've sent out hundreds of sponsorship letters, but we've not heard back from them," Christina reiterates.

To raise funds, Christina used to sell keychains decorated by the kids. But they stopped when they ran out of capital to buy the materials needed. Times are hard, but Christina vows to persevere.

"I will never give the kids up or chase them away or let them survive on their own. I'll do everything I can to see them grow up and become successful adults. I would love to care for even more children, but we are already struggling to make ends meet. I will have to think twice before accepting anyone new into the home."

> To contribute to Ephrata, contact Christina Soosai at 012-6269356 or 016-6902720.

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