On a mission

Chico couple work to save girls’ school in Pakistan

Miriam and Adam Walter with their two rescue dogs. The Walters are working to save a girls’ school in northern Pakistan.

Miriam and Adam Walter with their two rescue dogs. The Walters are working to save a girls’ school in northern Pakistan.

photo by tom gascoyne

Adam and Miriam Walter have lived in Chico since 2010. They both are in the nursing field—he works at Enloe Rehabilitation Center and she teaches at Chico State. There is something else they have in common—the country of Pakistan—that has put them on a mission to save a girls’ school in an Afghan refugee camp there.

Adam is from New Zealand. His grandmother Beatrice was from English aristocracy. She divorced her English husband and married a religious Muslim cleric named Ozair Gul in Pakistan. She adopted his children and, in his words, they became “pillars of the community.” In the 1940s, she opened a school there.

Miriam was born to missionary parents in Pakistan and lived there until the age of 10 before her parents returned to the United States, where she was raised in southern Ohio.

“We both had this common connection to Pakistan and thought, ‘Oh that’s kind of cool,’” Adam said during a recent interview in their northwest Chico home. They moved to Chico because of Miriam’s quest for a job at Chico State.

With that Pakistan connection they now want to help preserve and improve a primary school for girls established in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan in 2002 by a couple of American Quakers. The Walters had heard about the school from Quakers who live in Chico and attend the Quaker Center on Hemlock Street.

“We’re not Quakers,” Miriam explained with a laugh. “We just hang with them.”

The Walters have been in contact with a woman named Betsy Emerick, an American who represents the school, which has since expanded to two campuses. The school, while connected with Quakers, teaches the native languages and religions.

They contacted Emerick because they were planning a trip to India with a group of 20 Chico State nursing students.

“We had the opportunity to go, tour and work at clinics and do nursing,” Miriam said of the private trip that they had arranged and helped finance. “So we thought that was a great opportunity to go to Pakistan as well.”

As such they tagged 10 days onto the end of their India trip in order to visit Pakistan and the girls’ refugee school. They came back to Chico July 11.

The school the Walters visited is located in the remote Hindu Kush—the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, near where Osama bin Ladin was killed in 2011. And that sort of information can create a certain impression.

“The typical American view of Islam and Muslims in that part of the world is that they are kind of crazy, violent jihads and so forth who oppress women and impose outrageous Sharia law,” Adam said.

He said the village where the schools exist are just the opposite of that scenario.

“The women are respected,” he said. “They still keep their heads covered and don’t go out much, but they are very protected.”

Adam first visited his grandmother in Pakistan in 1958 and has been back five times since, working with Doctors Without Borders and traveling privately.

“I had always wanted to try to contribute something back into this wonderful remote village that my grandmother had kind of adopted back in the ’40s,” he said. “She had started a little school there and she had run clinics for the village people.”

That school connection is also what sparked their interest in the refugee schools for Afghan girls. The schools are in need of repair, do not have desks or chairs and are lacking water. The Walters plan to return soon to lend a hand.

“Part of my personal agenda is bridging these sad divides between cultural and religious prejudices and extremists by thinking and acting globally,” Adam said. “I just want to go there and help the girls’ school. My family lived there.”