August 6th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Meet the Burka Avenger, a fighter for female education

By Saima Mohsin, CNN

(CNN) - Most, if not all, super heroes wear cloaks and masks to hide their identity. But how about a burqa?

A new cartoon series in Pakistan is turning stereotypes on their head. It's centered around a woman who doesn't wear a burqa in the daytime but puts one on to transform into the "Burka Avenger" – and what's more, she's fighting for female education.

The cartoon is already the talk of the country and it hasn't even launched yet. "Burka Avenger" is a passion project of Pakistani pop star, Haroon.

"It was in 2010 and I was reading a lot of articles about girls' schools being shut down by extremists so that was in my mind," he told CNN after I met him at his studio.

"Living in Pakistan, all theses issues are staring you in the face constantly. So when you're creating art, whether it be music or anything else like a cartoon TV series - you want to incorporate social messages. I feel it's my duty to try and make a positive difference."

School teacher by day, by night the Burka Avenger (spelled with a 'k') dons a special burqa to protect girls' schools, fighting the bad guys trying to shut them down.."The Burka Avenger is a character called Jiya, orphaned as a child, adopted by a Kabbadi master, who is a master of this mystic martial art that I created, called Takht Kabbadi - the art of fighting with books and pens. It gives the message of the importance of education and that the pen is mightier than the sword," Haroon says.

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July 25th, 2013
10:30 AM ET

Indian headmistress tied to poisoned lunches arrested

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN

New Delhi (CNN) - The headmistress of the Indian school that authorities say served toxic lunches, killing 23 students, was arrested Wednesday, police said.

Meena Kumari, 36, was taken into custody on her way to a court where she had gone to surrender herself, police Superintendent Sujeet Kumar told CNN. She will be questioned Wednesday and taken before the court Thursday, he said.

Authorities had been working to track down Kumari, who had been at large since the July 16 incident.

The whereabouts of her husband, who is not named as an accused person in the case, are still not known, Kumar added. Police want to question him in connection with the case.

Pesticides have been found in the food and oil used in the school lunch that sickened 25 others in northern India's Bihar state, police said.

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Deadly school lunch in India
July 23rd, 2013
11:35 AM ET

Officers hunt down headmistress after Indian school poisoning

By Harmeet Shah Singh and Tom Watkins, CNN

Partna, India (CNN) - A week after an Indian school served toxic food to students, leaving 23 dead, its headmistress remains missing along with her husband, police said Tuesday. A nine-member team of officers has been formed to investigate and track down the principal, Meena Kumari, police superintendent Sujeet Kumar said.

Police presence is heavy in the village in Bihar state, especially around the principal's home.

Authorities have recorded statements from 40 witnesses, including child survivors of the July 16 food poisoning, Kumar said.

Residents went on a rampage a day after the toxic meals were served in the local government school, torching at least four police cars.

In acts of protest, parents of at least three children have buried their kids near the school - one right in front of the building, according to officials.

Police will ensure the headmistress' safety when she resurfaces or is taken into custody for questioning, authorities said.

Pesticides have been found in the food and oil used in the school lunch that sickened 25 others on July 16 in northern India's Bihar state, police said.

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July 23rd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Inside an Indian school kitchen

(CNN) - The Indian government has encouraged more children to attend school by offering free lunches to students. Most are prepared in individual kitchens; they rely on rice provided by the government and other foods that cost only a few cents per student. After dozens of children were sickened or killed by pesticides in school lunch, CNN's Sumnima Udas visited an Indian school kitchen to see how the meals are made, and why they continue to draw more students to classrooms.

Deadly school lunch in India
July 22nd, 2013
09:33 AM ET

Pesticides found in deadly school lunch in India

By Harmeet Shah Singh and Tom Watkins, CNN

Patna, India (CNN) - Pesticides have been found in the food and oil used in a free school lunch that killed 23 students and sickened 25 others on Tuesday in northern India's Bihar state, police said Saturday.

Forensic scientists found monocrotophos, an organophosphorus compound used as an insecticide, "in the samples of oil from the container, food remains on the platter and mixture of rice with vegetables in an aluminum utensil," Assistant Director General Ravinder Kumar told reporters in Patna.

Monocrotophos, which is used for agricultural purposes, is toxic to humans.

An administrative inquiry has pointed to negligence by the school headmistress in supervising food preparation for the children, Bihar state's midday meal director R. Lakshamanan told CNN on Friday.

The cook, Manju Devi, was hospitalized after eating the food she prepared, doctors said.

Devi told police that the headmistress, Meena Kumari, did not heed her warning that the mustard oil used to prepare Tuesday's lunch looked and smelled bad and instead insisted that she continue preparing the meal, Lakshmanan said, citing the inquiry report.

Police told CNN that investigators were trying to find Kumari to question her.

The investigation found compromised hygiene and sanitation in the school, which was running from a single-room makeshift building, he added.

Read the full story

 

 

July 19th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

School principal missing after lunch deaths in India

By Harmeet Shah Singh, Sumnima Udas and Ashley Fantz, CNN

Bihar, India (CNN) - A father holds his limp child in his arms, carrying her from the school he trusted to take care of her. A video camera focuses on his face locked in total anguish. Everyone around him is shouting. He goes to the back of an open van and struggles to keep the white blanket he's wrapped around his child's body from slipping as he lays the body down.The mother of a 5-year-old repeatedly calls her daughter's name.

Why aren't you coming back, she pleads.

"Why isn't anyone bringing Dipu back?!"

These moments came in the wake of the deaths of 23 Indian children who were poisoned by school lunches they were given Tuesday, authorities say.

The students, who authorities said were between the ages of 5 and 12, started vomiting soon after their first bite of rice and potatoes at their government primary school in the northern state of Bihar. Some fainted.

Earlier, authorities had said 22 children had died, but on Thursday district magistrate Abhijit Sinha explained that one deceased boy had not been counted in the initial death toll because his father had taken his body without handing it over for autopsy.

Grief and anger so permeate this poverty-stricken community that parents of at least three children have buried their lost ones near the school - one right in front of the building, according to CNN journalists who saw the burial mounds. Sinha told CNN that the burials were acts of protest.

Demonstrations have popped up around the area as people seek answers about how this tragedy could have happened. One video segment showed men apparently attacking a school bus with sticks. Others gathered and held signs.

Students at nearby schools refused to eat.

"I am scared now. ... There is fear in our hearts," one child told CNN sister network CNN-IBN.

Meanwhile, a top federal official said authorities had warned of safety problems with the state's school meal program months ago.

And police told CNN that investigators have been unable to find the headmistress of the school in order to question her.

Authorities have not named the headmistress and her husband, whom they also want to interview, local police chief Sujit Kumar said Thursday.

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July 13th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Malala at U.N.: The Taliban failed to silence us

By Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) - A Pakistani teenager nearly killed by Taliban gunmen for advocating that all girls should have the right to go to school gave her first formal public remarks Friday at the United Nations. It also happened to be Malala Yousafzai's 16th birthday.

"Today, it is an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time," she said. "Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life."

She looked out at an audience of hundreds of children from around the world and U.N. members, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and told them that she was wearing a pink shawl that once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan who was killed in 2007 in a suicide attack at a political rally.

"I don't know where to begin my speech," she said. "I don't know what people would be expecting me to say. But first of all, thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and a new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me."

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July 8th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

The story of Malala's friend: Brightening girls' lives with education

Getty ImagesBy Gordon Brown, Special for CNN

Editor's note: Gordon Brown is a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education. He was formerly the UK's prime minister.

(CNN) - Today we can tell the remarkable story of Shazia Ramzan, a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl.

Last October Shazia was travelling home from school with her friend Malala Yousafzai when a Taliban gunman boarded their bus and shot both of them. Malala suffered head and facial injuries and had to be rushed to hospital in the UK. Shot in the neck and arm, Shazia spent a month in hospital while her deep wounds healed. Both were attacked by terrorists who wanted to stop girls going to school.

Shazia dreams of being a doctor. Fighting back from her injuries, she attempted to resume her schooling at home in the Swat Valley. So keen was she to return to school at the earliest opportunity that she ignored continuing threats to her life from the same Taliban terrorists who shot her and Malala.

For months she has had to be escorted to school each day by two armed guards. Her home has had to be protected by police. Sadly, the more that Shazia spoke up, the more the threats escalated, making it difficult for her and her family to remain secure.And in the past few weeks violence has escalated across Pakistan. A female teacher was gunned down in front of her young son as she drove into her all girls' schools. A school principal was killed and his pupils severely injured when a bomb was thrown into a school playground in an all-girls school in Karachi just as a prize giving ceremony began.

Only ten days ago, in a massacre which will long be remembered as the single worst terrorist assault on girls' education in recent years, the bus in which 40 female students were travelling from their all-girls college campus in Quetta was blown up by a suicide bomber. 14 girls were killed. So violent was the terrorist attack that another group followed the injured girls to hospital and opened fire on them again.

Despite the public revulsion against the violence, the attacks have continued. Only this weekend two schools were blown up, while another two girls were murdered for posting a video in which they were filmed dancing in the rain.

Read Brown's full column

The gift of education
July 4th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Child bride turned scholar: Education is the road out of poverty

By Tererai Trent, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Tererai Trent is a humanitarian, scholar and speaker. She grew up in rural Zimbabwe, unable to attend school until Heifer International helped her get an education. She now has three degrees, and is founder of Tinogona Foundation.

(CNN) - Eight-year-old Tineyi takes my hand and leads me into her mud-thatched hut in my home village of Matau in rural Zimbabwe. There, in a dark corner of the room, is a wooden bookshelf. Carefully crafted by her father, it protects her word-filled treasures from the smoky fire inside the small hut where her mother cooks. I smile, knowing that her father has recognized the value these books will bring to his little bookworm - a life ahead of her with limitless opportunities.

It was not a life intended for many girls in Africa. As a cattle-herding tomboy, I was bound to follow in the footsteps of generations of women before me: early marriage, illiteracy and poverty. Back then, most kids in my village never had a chance to attend pre-school because it didn't exist. Instead, we would spend hours chasing birds and monkeys from our parents' fields.

Gold mines and urban factories employed men, while women remained at home to look after their children. The more men could read and write, the better their chances of being employed and able to provide for their family. As a result, families wanted to educate their sons, who became village role models. Without an education, how could girls compete? How could they become role models, too?

That was more than 40 years ago.

Today, change is happening in my beloved Matau, and all across the long red dirt roads, verdant mountains and open blue skies of Africa. The leaders of African countries have made education more of a priority, even for girls. Now, girls can be role models. Girls like me, a cattle herder who married young, and by age 18 had three children and no high school diploma. But I defied the odds, got an education and came back to build a school.

Read the full story

July 2nd, 2013
11:30 AM ET

Why foreign colleges are entering China

(CNN) - Carl Fey, dean of Nottingham University Business School China, discusses the growing number of foreign campuses opening in China. At his school, they spend the first year teaching students English, so they learn to work, study and speak in English before diving into subject matter.

"Your diploma looks exactly the same whether you graduated from Nottingham UK or Nottingham China," Fey said. "That's because the education's actually the same."

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