Doctoral student teaches English, math overseas

Shelley Blundell

Anita Harris teaches two third and fourth grade instructors in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in a workshop she created for math, English and lanuguage instruction during the 11 weeks she spent in Pakistan.

Credit: Ben Breier

Some people dream about making a difference. And then there are those who stop dreaming and start doing.

Anita Harris is one of those people who do.

A doctoral student in the College of Education, Harris decided the best way she could make a difference was by sharing the gift of teaching to those less advantaged than others.

“I used to live in Pakistan from 1998 until 2000,” Harris said. “I worked for a private school and knew about the work non-governmental organizations did but didn’t know how to get involved.”

After Harris returned to the United States, she often contemplated the situation in Pakistan and stewed over ways to get involved.

In 2004, she found a way.

“Last November, I knew I wanted to do something on my own,” Harris said. “So, I went on the Internet and started looking up non-governmental organizations.”

When Harris found what she was looking for – an organization in Los Angeles that sought skilled people to set up village schools in Pakistan – she knew what she had to do.

With a small stipend from Kent State and many student loans, Harris set off to Pakistan for 11 weeks. While she was there, she set up workshops in English language instruction and mathematics for 54 Pakistani teachers. She also created a manual as a legacy for others who wanted to further what she had begun.

“The major focus was on education of girls,” Harris said. “Female illiteracy is very high in Pakistan, and I wanted to help teachers in the villages deal with that problem.”

When asked why she had incurred huge financial and emotional debts to assist people she didn’t know, Harris answered honestly and openly.

“Why do people get involved in any impoverished area?” Harris said. “Kids don’t have the same opportunities as kids from a wealthy background in Pakistan and I knew there was a way I could help.”

While Harris was in Pakistan, she interviewed teachers about their perspectives on education and found they were remarkably similar to the views of teachers in the United States.

“They (the teachers) are more savvy than people assume,” Harris said. “A lot of people think ‘villagers are dumb,’ which is not the case. Technology is everywhere, as well as the desire to do more.”

In Pakistan, Harris explained, teaching is one of the only jobs women are allowed to get. So they do all they can to enable younger women to succeed both in and outside the classroom.

The ultimate goal behind their motivation? A better Pakistan.

Although Harris went alone to Pakistan, she recommended that anyone thinking of engaging in such a pursuit set up a support system before they leave.

“It was very emotionally draining, being over there by myself,” Harris said. “Anyone who is seriously thinking about going should find someone familiar you can talk with because you will experience culture shock. If you don’t have someone who shares a familiar mind set with you it becomes very difficult.”

But despite her feelings of displacement, Harris came through the process both refreshed and educated, and felt it was one of the best things she could ever have done.

Anybody interested in getting involved in a non-governmental organization can go to to begin their search.

Who knows? It may be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

Contact features reporter Shelley Blundell at [email protected].