Pakistan travels prompt library programWhen Nancy Parlin of New Richmond joined the Peace Corps in the 1960s, she had no idea where Pakistan was.
When Nancy Parlin of New Richmond joined the Peace Corps in the 1960s, she had no idea where Pakistan was.
“I had to get a map and look it up,” she said with a laugh.
Now, Pakistan has shaped her life into the person she is today.
During her time in the Peace Corps, Parlin spent time in Peshawar and Multan helping to teach farmers basic agricultural techniques.
“We taught them to plant in straight lines, introduced them to tractors and set up co-ops,” she said.
She returned in 1977, 1991 and last summer to see how the country had progressed and changed.
“The biggest change is the country’s population,” she said. “It was less than 1/3 of what it is today.”
Other changes include the mode of transportation -- more people are driving motorcycles -- and the number of trees.
“It’s a totally different landscape now,” she said.
When she first arrived in 1962, the co-op served more than 100 villages and was used as a resettlement program for many Muslims who came to Pakistan from Afghanistan and India, she said. Through the co-op, people were able to lease land, farm it and eventually own it. When she returned in 1977, most of the land was owned by families.
When she returned to Pakistan the second time, in 1991, Parlin attended a seminar that brought her all over the country to study the political atmosphere.
The northwest area was hugely impacted by the war against Russia and Afghanistan, she said. The area housed refugee camps with thousands and thousands of refugees.
By 1991, the U.S. troops had left Pakistan, but military equipment and newly trained Pakistani fighters were left behind.
Drug lords had started erecting fortresses on 30 acres of land with high, fortified walls and armed guards, she said.
“They were independent kingdoms,” she said. “You could really see the beginnings of some of the problems we have today.”
Parlin said she believes that Pakistan would be a different country if the United States would not have abandoned it years ago.
“We used Pakistan when we needed it and then we accused them of developing nuclear weapons and pulled out,” she said.
She said all the funding to local schools and teaching programs was cut, causing more problems.
“Today would be a lot better if more teachers had been trained and more schools had been opened,” she said. “Education is the only solution to the problems today ... And people want education. There’s no doubt about that.”
Pakistan spends its budget on their military, not education, Parlin said. Only about 2 percent of the country’s budget goes toward bettering education.
When Parlin returned to Pakistan this summer with two other former Peace Corps volunteers, the three worked with local schools to help train teachers in science.
“We did a summer workshop for teachers where we had 12 hands-on experimental projects,” she said. “Then later the teachers put on a science program for the kids and we backed them up.”
Although she might not have known where Pakistan was 40 years ago, it’s a place close to her heart.
“Pakistan opened up a whole identity for me and it’s really enriched my life,” she said. “I really love the culture and the food. I really love being over there.”
Parlin is scheduled to talk about her trips and perspective on the situation in Pakistan, along with the changes the country has undergone since 1962 at the River Falls Library, 140 Union St., on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.