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Pakistan school offers orphans refuge to prevent turn to militancy

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In many places central to the war on terror, public schools have never existed. Floods and conflict have further wiped out educational opportunities. The unschooled then become vulnerable to joining criminal gangs who run under the banner of the Taliban.

Khalil's story represents one small effort to get the most vulnerable children back in school and back on track to a peaceful life.

"Orphans are the most vulnerable," says Ashfaq Ahmed, a dean of the Ummah Children Academy. "They are picked by those people who use them for their own purposes, to make them slaves, thieves, pickpockets – and suicide bombers."

Madrasas not the primary danger

The Ummah Welfare Trust, a Muslim charity based in England, opened the academy in 2007 and now houses about 700 orphans. Classrooms and dorms line a central, grassy quad, and mosque. The students pray five times a day and are taught the Koran, as well as a curriculum published by Oxford University Press that includes English, computer skills, and hard sciences.

"This is not a madrasa," says Mr. Ahmed. "We want [our students] to be good doctors, good engineers, with good human hearts and minds."

Nor are madrasas the biggest risk factor for conflict, according to a 2010 report from the Brookings Institution in Washington. Less than 10 percent of Pakistan's students are taught in madrasas and have not been a primary cause of rising militancy.

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