PESHAWAR -- Education is the best tool to counter violent extremism. This is the message behind the "141 Schools for Peace" initiative, which aims to build 141 schools in memory of the children and teachers killed in the December 2014 Army Public School (APS) terrorist massacre in Peshawar.
The Citizens Foundation (TCF), a non-profit based in Karachi, is partnering with 141schools.org to build the schools. Some will be primary and some will be high schools, depending on a given community's needs.
Twenty-four schools have been completed so far.
"The initiative is a message that Pakistan stands for education for all and that lasting peace is crucial to our country's progress," TCF President and CEO Syed Assad Ayub Ahmad told Pakistan Forward.
Education is key to peace, development
"All of Pakistan was shaken by the APS attack," he said in an email message announcing the launch of the project last December. "The 141 Schools for Peace initiative is at the heart of our struggle for a better and more peaceful Pakistan. Our response to the current problems of our country is education."
"With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani," he wrote.
"The 141 Schools for Peace that we build together will stand as a lasting symbol of hope, resilience and our resolve to educate all the children of Pakistan," he said.
TCF is Pakistan's leading organisation working to provide educational opportunities for less privileged communities, said TCF spokeswoman Sarah Tahir.
The founders of TCF, a group of citizens, believe in bringing about positive social change by spreading education.
"Since its establishment in 1995, TCF has constructed 1,200 schools, where 175,000 deserving students receive quality education for very low fees," she told Pakistan Forward.
"The idea of constructing 141 schools in memory of the APS victims was conceived by an expatriate Pakistani, Zaki Patel, who considers spreading education a befitting response to the violent mindset of militants," she said.
Zaki, a computer science graduate from Karachi who lives in Canada, shared his idea with TCF, which warmly accepted the proposal, she said.
Besides completing 24 schools, workers are building another 18 at this time, Sarah said. Among the 24 completed schools, four are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the province where the APS atrocity occurred.
As of September, 35 donors have pledged to construct 41 schools in their entirety, while more than 1,000 donors worldwide have committed contributions to the pool of funds formed to complete the project, she said.
Each school costs about Rs. 15m (US $150,000) to construct, so the total cost for all 141 schools stands at a little over US $21m.
Each school can host about 180 students, so about 25,380 schoolchildren will benefit from the initiative, Sarah said.
Widespread support for 141 Schools for Peace
The joint initiative of TCF and 141schools.org has received widespread support from all sections of society including Ali Zafar, a Pakistani singer and actor.
Ali Zafar has dedicated the earnings from his song "Urainge" (We Will Fly), which he sang in memory of APS martyrs, toward building the 141 schools, he said in an interview with international media in March.
"This is a very apt reply to terrorists, because for the extermination of extremism we have to eliminate its root cause, which is mainly illiteracy, ignorance and poverty," said Andaleeb Aftab, a teacher at APS Peshawar and the mother of a martyr, Huzaifa Aftab, a ninth-grader at the time of the attack.
Andaleeb highly appreciates the initiative. "Through education we can win our fight against terrorism and can make our country progressive and developed," she told Pakistan Forward.
A terrorist is not made in a single day, she said. It can take years to convert an ordinary person into a radicalised youth.
"Society should consider the root causes that lead our countrymen towards radicalism and take preventive measures like spreading education in every nook and corner of the country," she said.
Abid Ali, whose wife, Farhat Bibi, was a teacher at APS who died in the attack, lauded TCF's initiative.
"Our loss cannot be recovered, but we want for our countrymen to be protected from the damage inflicted by terrorists," he told Pakistan Forward.
"The decision of TCF to construct 141 schools in memory of APS victims is highly commendable and will help greatly to make our country prosperous ... by eradicating the extremist mindset from society," he said.