The post comes from Rachel S. Meyer, assistant director of the South Asia Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. She has facilitated a pen pal program between students at Zilker Elementary and a primary school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. We’re honored to have provided books for the program to help students from each country learn more about each other’s cultures and lives.
For the past three-years, through a partnership with UT Austin’s South Asia Institute (SAI), scholars from Pakistan’s Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) have been coming to UT Austin for a semester of courses, training sessions, and academic collaboration (21 faculty have come so far). While enriching UT campus with their cultural contributions, the aim of the partnership is to enhance the abilities of the FJWU faculty in teaching and research in the areas of women’s and gender studies, communications studies, and the behavioral and social sciences.
After the scholars have studied in Austin, UT Faculty have been working with them through the program have also been traveling to Pakistan as part of a reciprocal exchange. The partnership was made possible by a grant of nearly $1 million from the US Department of State/United States Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The pen pal project emerged out of my ten-day visit to FJWU in May 2013 with other UT faculty, during which the faculty form the education department at FJWU brought me to a few different primary schools in the area. For the past 8 years I have worked as part of SAI’s K-12 educator outreach program, planning and leading workshops and developing curriculum on South Asia for K-12 teachers in Texas. I was therefore extremely eager to visit schools and meet with the students and teachers when I was in Pakistan.
The partnership program between Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) in Rawalpindi and The University of Texas at Austin has highlighted the ability of education to enhance the global community by the creation of opportunities for learning and opening the spaces for dialogue among the people of both nations. Having a curious son of my own, who asked many questions about my May 2013 trip, it seemed like a fun and exciting way to enliven this project further.
The pen pal exchange started this spring and brought together, through hand written letters, about 85 fourth grade students of the Federal Government Primary School on Mehfooz Road, in Rawalpindi and 85 students at Zilker Elementary School of the Austin Independent School District. The the results of the letter-writing were little culture capsules. They were priceless, touching and heartfelt. And, with very little guidance on content and subject matter, the kids found amazing ways of expressing themselves to each other.
The students in both countries exchanged letters twice, with each side writing two letters to their pen pal. As part of the pen pal project I thought it would be wonderful to give the students in both places books, so that they could learn more about the places where their pen pals lived — and I always work with BookPeople’s Michael McCarthy to order materials for the other K-12 activities that we have going on at SAI. (I like to support the local businesses and love BookPeople in particular. You support Zilker Elementary every November for one of its annual fundraisers, and my son attends Camp Half Blood every summer —so working with you all is an easy decision!)
We hope that the pen pal project between fourth grade students in Pakistan and the United States is a step toward building a sustainable relationship between U.S. and Pakistani educational institutions and for strengthening mutual understanding between peoples of U.S. and Pakistan.
“There’s something cool I want to tell you. I love pizza too.” – Zilker student
“My father is the best father in the world.” – Rawalpindi student
“I love having you as a new friend.” – Zilker student
“My mother is a teacher. My father is a pilot…My hobby is painting.” – Rawalpindi student
“My favorite hobby is the computer…My country’s flag is a moon star. I like it very much.” – Rawalpindi student
“I have a lot more to say, but it’s time to end my letter to you.” -Zilker student
“I look forward to writing to you again!” -Zilker student