Malala becomes lightning rod for anger over neglect of her hometown

Malala becomes lightning rod for anger over neglect of her hometown

MINGORA, Pakistan - In the hometown of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the students at the government-run Girls' High School Mingora sit cross-legged on sacks and sheets on the floor because there is not enough furniture.

The windows are broken, the walls dirty, and the teachers angry. Their anger is not directed at Malala herself, they say, but at a world that lavishes attention on her while ignoring the neglect and violence in her home of Swat Valley.

"It's all Malala, Malala, Malala," complained mathematics teacher Saima Khan.

"There are hundreds of people who have sacrificed everything and lost everything. No one has given them anything."

At a cake-cutting ceremony on Saturday, politicians carrying posters of Malala jostled for space with civil society activists before marching to the press club along potholed streets piled high with rubbish.

Many residents looked askance at the procession, pointing out that even as leaders paid lip service to Malala's education drive, they were allowing schools in her hometown to crumble under government neglect and continued military occupation.

"This obviously makes people unhappy. If the government did its job, people wouldn't have to hate Malala. They feel abandoned," said Ahmed Shah, Malala's former teacher and a close friend of her father.

"People feel that Malala got attention all over the world but Swat got no attention even in Pakistan."

Provincial legislator Fazle Hakim said he was big fan of Malala's education message, but conceded the government had not built a single new school since coming to power a year ago.

"People are upset at the lack of work," he admitted.

Building new schools is especially urgent since the troops that arrived in 2009 continue to use many schools as barracks and bases.

Hakim said around 40 per cent of schools in Swat Valley were currently being used by the military.

"My own sister has not gone to school in two years because the school she attended is now occupied by the army and the other school is too far away and she can't walk there alone. This is undermining Malala's mission," said medical officer Tariq Khan as he shopped at the local market.

"For Malala's struggle to succeed, give us back our schools please ... Otherwise Malala would have been shot and gone through all this trouble in vain."

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