COLUMBIA — The brightly lit halls of Rock Bridge High School are a long way away from Azam Khan’s home in Charsadda, Pakistan.
Khan is from a tribal region along the Afghan-Pakistan border where the electricity comes and goes, and residents get to enjoy about two to three hours of it each day.
Two of the journalists from Pakistan will be featured on the Global Journalist Radio program, at globaljournalist.org at 9 a.m. Thursday.
The program will also air on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on91.3 FM.
On March 21 Khan arrived in Honolulu with nine other journalists from various parts of Pakistan, in order to learn more about media and life in the U.S. Columbia was chosen as a stop on the journalist’s U.S. tour, so they could visit the Missouri School of Journalism. Rock Bridge was chosen as a stop in Columbia, because of the school’s strong journalism program.
On Tuesday, two Rock Bridge students gave the journalists a tour of the high school.
The tour wound through art classes, the Performing Arts Center and into the cafeteria where Khan was surprised that students could buy 50-cent bowls of cereal. In the tribal areas around Charsadda, consistent and adequate access to nutrition, medicine and especially education are major issues. He said he thought it was good that students could purchase affordable food at school here.
Khan takes great pride in reporting about issues of accessibility to basic resources. Though electricity is unreliable in Charsadda, Khan files about thirty stories a week for Radio Pakistan - Peshawar, using his Internet cell phone.
Radio is the most essential media in his area because limited access to electricity and low literacy rates mean televisions and newspapers are underutilized.
“In the tribal areas, there aren’t enough schools, the nearest hospitals are far away, illiteracy is high and only 10 percent of girls are going to school," Khan said on the walk to Robin Stover’s journalism class.
Khan has three kids, who he will teach at home until they are old enough to walk the several kilometers to school everyday. Khan believes education is at the heart of the issues facing rural and tribal Pakistan, and that educating the children of these areas would go a long way to combat militant attacks in the area.
“Education will uplift Pakistan,” Khan said.
In Stover’s classroom, students were working on content for the school's three publications. Students in the class publish a weekly newspaper called The Rock, an online edition called the Bearing News and a quarterly magazine called the Southpaw.
The Pakistani journalists pulled out their iPhones to text friends and co-workers pictures and video of the classroom. The students and journalists discussed the use of social media and shared ideas about Facebook and Twitter. The use of social media is a significant part of cultural transmission between the two countires.
Many of the Pakistani journalists come from big cities like the capital Islamabad and Karachi, a city that has a population almost twice that of Missouri's population. Many aspects of American culture, businesses and films are popular in these places, but most of the journalists on the tour have never been outside of Pakistan before.
Like social media, the goal of the organization sponsoring this trip, the East-West Center, is to foster understanding and amicable relations between Asian countries and the United States. The Honolulu-based organization was established by Congress in 1960 to promote research, dialogue and understanding between Asia and the U.S.
The exchange of Gmail accounts and cell phone numbers between the student and professional journalists in Stover’s classroom seemed to confirm the achievement of these goals.
As the journalists prepared to depart the school, some of them mentioned wanting to come back and study in Columbia some day, maybe on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Khan seemed excited to return to Charsadda with the perspective he’d attained on his tour thus far. He reiterated that change in his region would happen only through education and awareness.