Local nonprofit activists monitor Malala’s ordeal | PostIndependent.com

Local nonprofit activists monitor Malala’s ordeal

John Colson Post IndependentJodi Fischer of Carbondale, left, and Silbi Stainton of Basalt have been working with an international board of directors through the Marshall Direct Fund to set up two schools and two vocational centers in Pakistan.

BASALT, Colorado – Two local women are directing a campaign to provide an education to Pakistani children and women, in direct conflict with the philosophies of the Taliban Muslim extremist organization.

And these two women, Silbi Stainton of Basalt and Jodi Fischer of Carbondale, have been closely following the ordeal of Malala Yousufzai, 15, a Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen on Oct. 9, as she rode home on a school bus in the Swat Valley region.

The militants targeted the girl because she was an outspoken opponent of the group and promoted “Western thinking,” such as girls’ education, the Associated Press reported.

“Sometimes it takes a hero to notice, or be reminded what is important,” wrote Stainton about what she termed “the Malala effect.”

“Malala spoke out on behalf of girls in Pakistan and their right to an education,” Stainton wrote. “After being hunted down and shot in the head … she now has the world’s attention.”

Malala is slowly recovering from the wound at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, according to the Associated Press.

Stainton, who has visited Pakistan numerous times in her work, said she does not personally know Malala. But the young girls she works with live with the fear of such attacks at all times.

“It’s frightening to think that someone would try to kill them just for going to school,” Stainton said. She has heard stories of floggings, shootings and other atrocities perpetrated against girls whose only offense was trying to get an education.

According to a story on the British SkyNews website, a Taliban official has lashed out at the public outcry over Malala’s shooting, and the Taliban has vowed to finish the job by killing Malala and her father, who ran a girls’ school in Swat Valley, near the capital city of Islamabad.

Through the Marshall Direct Fund, Stainton and Fischer have been working with an international board of directors to set up two schools, one for boys and one for girls, and two vocational centers for grown women, all in Pakistan.

Stainton founded and is executive director of the Marshall Direct Fund, which she has run out of her home in Basalt since 2007. A Boulder native, she holds a master’s degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University, and studied international security at Harvard.

Fischer holds a master’s degree in international development from Denver University and is the fund’s program director.

At the fund’s four institutions in Pakistan, boys and girls can get an education that they otherwise might never receive, and women 17-24 can learn how to start and operate small commercial enterprises. The schools each serve about 125 students, and the two vocational training centers are serving about 200 young women.

Stainton, Fischer and the fund’s two dozen volunteers and teachers in Pakistan have all been closely following Malala’s slow recovery from the shooting.

“I think all of the students are keeping her in their prayers,” Stainton said of the girls and women attending classes in Pakistan.

Marshall Direct Fund also works with Roaring Fork Valley schools and families to establish modern pen-pal relationships between students here and in Pakistan.

Stainton acknowledged that, because she is in the business of providing an education to Pakistani girls and women, she might somehow be targeted by the Taliban.

“If I lived over there, I would be more concerned,” she said, but she visits only occasionally. Because she is not affiliated with a large organization, she said, “I pretty much stay under their radar when I visit.”

Still, she said, her organization has been touched by Taliban violence, such as the killing of a governor of the Punjab province more than a year ago over his support for education for women and human rights in general. The victim was the father of one of her board members, Shehrvano Taseer, and Taseer’s brother also was kidnapped for speaking out for human rights.

Stainton also is an acquaintance of John Solecki, who worked for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees in Pakistan and was kidnapped in 2009. Solecki ultimately was released and returned to the U.S.

“That’s, like, a tough neighborhood, no doubt about it,” Stainton remarked. She said the fund is cautious about the two dozen fund workers in Pakistan, and withholds the exact locations of the schools.

“They’re brave people,” she said of the Pakistani volunteers and teachers who work in the schools. “Anybody who works with an organization offering education to girls is definitely doing something courageous.”

Information about the fund is available at its website, http://www.marshalldirectfund.org, and donations can be make directly toward Malala’s medical costs at her family’s website, http://www.indiegogo.com/FriendsofMalala.

jcolson@postindependent.com