A genuine pioneer visits from Pakistan

By Don Corrigan
for the Webster-Kirkwood Times

After a series of airline flights from Pakistan to Dubai to Washington, D.C., to St. Louis, Fatima Noor joined the high school cross-country team this summer to become a genuine Kirkwood Pioneer.

"I had never run before, but I tried out and I liked it and became a Pioneer," laughed 15-year-old Noor, a sophomore exchange student at Kirkwood High School. "I like sports and especially the Kirkwood-Webster turkey day football rivalry.

"I understand that football rivalry because in my country there is big rivalry over playing cricket," said Noor. "Everyone in Pakistan is crazy about cricket. We have football in Pakistan, which is your soccer, but cricket is the big sport."

Noor is a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student, an initiative of the U.S. State Department. According to her host couple, Glendale's Sarah Yancey and J. Robert Kneightley, Noor has adapted nicely to life in America and at school in Kirkwood.

"I am just a little biased toward Parkway, because I taught English at Parkway South and was assistant principal there," said Yancey. "But I have to say everyone at Kirkwood has been wonderful to Fatima. Kirkwood is a very welcoming community."

That's not to say that Noor hasn't experienced culture shock here and there. She was very surprised to find a woman at the wheel of the bus that picked her up in Washington, D.C. That's a rare sight in Pakistan.

Noor also is used to spicy food with lots of curry in her home country. American food is mild by comparison. Noor also finds the politics in America rather mild, compared to the many party factions and heated political rivalries in her own country.

"I know the two parties here, the Democrats and Republicans, are very divided," said Noor. "My two host parents here are divided on politics, but they get along fine. In my country, every family is with one party and supports that party.

"I liked that Obama and Romney got together at the White House after the election to have lunch," added Noor. "After it was all over, the two American presidential candidates were respectful of each other."

Respect For Women

Noor is a contemporary of the most famous young Pakistani woman in the world. That would be Yousufzai Malala. In October, the 14-year-old girl was shot in the neck and head by the extremist Taliban. Malala was shot for speaking out on behalf of education for girls.

The Taliban has destroyed about 200 girls' schools in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. A Taliban gunman got on Malala's school bus and shot her and another student in an effort to silence her message for education. Malala is now recovering in the United Kingdom.

"When Malala was shot, the whole country was upset," said Noor, who said she has met Yousufzai Malala. "Vigils and protests shut the country down for two days. Malala is remarkable. There is so much outrage about what happened to her.

"The Taliban misinterpret the Quran and they do not represent Islam," added Noor. "I read the papers and they say the Taliban take a strict view of the Quran. That is not true, because the Quran advocates for compulsory education of both male and female."

Noor said activist women will not be silenced by the atrocities of the Taliban. She said she expects Malala to recover and to come back to Pakistan to champion a greater role for young people and for women in determining her country's future.

"Malala has no fear," said Noor. "It's right to be for the education of women. I come from a conservative religious family, but the males and the females are educated in my family and believe in education."

Noor said at the time she accepted a scholarship to come to the United States, she was leaning toward preparing to be a doctor. Now she said she is wavering on that ambition and may be interested in studying international relations.

Experiencing "Firsts"

Glendale's Yancey said it's been very gratifying to watch Noor experience so many "firsts" on her exchange visit, whether it's a first race in cross country or a first time at an amusement park like Six Flags.

"Fatima has been so busy with cross country and studying to make good grades, there hasn't been time to do a lot," said Yancey. "This next semester, we hope to find time to visit the Arch, and the Botanical Garden, the art and history museums."

Noor said she has grown fond of American ice cream. Another frosty item, which she hopes to become more familiar with is snow. Noor lives in an area of Pakistan that does not get snow, so she saw her first flakes here in America.

"Sledding is on the list of things to do," said Yancey. "We hope to get the Art Hill in Forest Park for some sledding when we get a good snow."

Yancey said she and her husband, Robert, are firm believers in hosting exchange students to help better international understanding. She is a member of the Missouri Gateway Area Team of American Field Service (AFS) Intercultural Programs and one of more than 36,000 AFS volunteers worldwide. For more information on exchanges go to: www.afusa.org.

"I am not afraid to praise a Republican," said Yancey, who unlike her husband, leans Democratic. "Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) has done so much for international relations by promoting things like these student exchanges. I was so upset this year when Lugar was defeated in his primary.

"Lugar has done great things for world peace and understanding," added Yancey. "We need more people like him."

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