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November 30. 2012 8:55PM

Milford exchange student shares stories of Pakistan


On a mission to educate Americans about her country, Hudabia Javed, 16, is attending Milford High School as an exchange student from Pakistan. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

MILFORD - Trading in her traditional Pakistani dress for jeans and a sweater, Hudabia Javed looks like any other teenager, and she has come as an exchange student to the United States to both learn about American culture and to teach Americans about the country she calls home.

Javed, 16, spoke to members of the Milford Rotary on Wednesday, sharing stories about her journey to the U.S. and trying to bridge the cultural gap between east and west that is made even more difficult due to the Taliban, a radical Muslim group that uses violence to further its agenda.

"I don't like them at all," said Javed. "Perhaps they are trying to do the right thing, but they are doing it the wrong way."

But the Taliban is not representative of Pakistan, the country Javed loves. Though her country is 90 percent Muslim, she said, there exists a strong freedom of religion that's exemplified by the flag of her nation that represents both Muslims and non-Muslims. "I really like the freedom of religion in Pakistan," she said. And women, contrary to what many Westerners believe, actually have equal rights, she said, but there is also a strong appreciation for tradition among the country's women.

"We all know how to knit and sew and we're very proud of those skills," Javed said. "In Milford, I walk around town in jeans. We would never do that in Pakistan. I wear my traditional clothes there."

And not all Pakistanis are alike. Just as in America, from north to south, and east to west, the cultures change, as do the languages.

"There are 30 to 40 different dialects in Pakistan," she said.

And the main struggle Javed said her country faces is not political or ideological, but financial.

"More than 90 percent of the country lives below the poverty line," she said. "Many people, especially girls, don't get to go to school because the schools are so far away. In the village where my mother grew up, the children had to walk for two hours to get to school and no parent wants to let their child walk that far."

Some of the questions Javed said she gets from her fellow students at Milford High School enforce what she said she feels is her duty to improve the perspective Americans have of Pakistan.

"One kid asked me if I go to school on a camel," she said.



nfoster@newstote.com


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