Thu. Sep 23rd, 2021

Santa Fean building school in Pakistan to honor daughter

Santa Fe native Diana MacArthur is planning and funding a school for children in Pakistan’s remote Hunza Valley. An artist’s rendering of the proposed building shows the school surrounded by the peaks of the Himalayas. Courtesy Design Matrix

Santa Fe native Diana MacArthur is planning and funding a school for children in Pakistan’s remote Hunza Valley. An artist’s rendering of the proposed building shows the school surrounded by the peaks of the Himalayas. Courtesy Design Matrix
Santa Fe native Diana MacArthur is planning and funding a school for children in Pakistan’s remote Hunza Valley. An artist’s rendering of the proposed building shows the school surrounded by the peaks of the Himalayas. Courtesy Design Matrix

At age 80, when most people are at home relaxing, Santa Fe native Diana MacArthur is planning a three-week trip to northern Pakistan, where she is building a school.

Her goal is to complete construction on a 23,000-square-foot building for students in nursery school through eighth grade by the end of 2015. MacArthur and her friends and family have donated half of the funds for the $5 million project.

The school in the village of Murtaza Abad in the Hunza Valley is being built in memory of MacArthur’s daughter, Elizabeth “Leeza” Tschursin.

MacArthur said people ask why she is building a school so far away. Her answer is that her daughter chose the site.

Diana MacArthur is funding construction of a school in a remote region of Pakistan to honor her late daughter who taught there. Katharine Egli/For The New Mexican
Diana MacArthur is funding construction of a school in a remote region of Pakistan to honor her late daughter who taught there. Katharine Egli/For The New Mexican

Tschursin, who was born in 1955, was MacArthur’s oldest child. She lived in Washington, D.C., but spent much time in Santa Fe, staying with family and hiking in the Pecos Wilderness. She received her bachelor’s degree from the College of Santa Fe, a master’s degree in biology from Georgetown University and a doctorate in microbiology from George Washington University.

As a graduation present, Tschursin’s mother gave her a trip to climb in the Alps, on Mount Kilimanjaro and in the Himalayas. Because of political turmoil, Tschursin was not able to enter Nepal, so she went to Pakistan, where she ended up in the country’s northernmost territory, Gilgit-Baltistan. As she traveled on the Karakoram Highway, she passed through a village and saw a small school, the Al-Murtaza Academy, which taught children up to sixth grade. She fell in love with the place, stayed with the principal’s mother and taught science.

Tschursin made many friends in the Hunza Valley, and when her visa ran out, she was invited to come back to teach. But she became ill and died in Washington, D.C., in 1994 before she was able to return.

MacArthur wants to turn the small school into an academic center for excellence. It also will be a state-of-the-art building.

Pakistani architects have been hired to make the new school the safest building in an area that has severe earthquakes. The project also has backup architects and engineers based in Albuquerque.

Today, the school is a shack with no insulation, lights or ventilation. The new building will have central heating, insulated walls and windows, and energy-saving light fixtures.

Power will come from the local electric grid, and diesel and methane gas from animal waste will fuel boilers to heat the building. Solar and wind power generation is impossible in the valley because tall mountains block both the sun and the wind.

The school will eventually serve 600 students, both boys and girls. It will have facilities for physically disabled children and will serve students of all the town’s religious sects. All villagers in Murtaza Abad are Muslim: 70 percent are Ismaili, followers of the Aga Khan; 29 percent are Shiite; the rest are Sunni. The school’s board includes directors from all those sects.

MacArthur is hoping to collaborate with the Aga Khan on construction for the school, as well as use his organization’s education expertise. She has met with members of the Pakistani diaspora, asking for funds. She has already raised about $300,000 from wealthy industrialists within Pakistan.

MacArthur said she goes to fundraising appointments fearlessly, in the same way that she visited Havana alone when she was 12.

Although there is no sectarian violence in the Hunza Valley, the road from Islamabad passes through conservative Sunni villages. Last year, buses on their way to northern Pakistan were stopped along the way, and Shiite men, women and children were massacred. Now, MacArthur no longer drives to the village, but takes the once-daily airplane flight across the Himalayas.

She seems unconcerned about her own safety, but she is worried her project will become a target for violent conservative groups that oppose schools.

Yet, MacArthur says, she will not let any obstacles stop her from opening an academic center of excellence in a tiny Himalayan village. Courtesy: Santa Fe New Mexican 

11 thoughts on “Santa Fean building school in Pakistan to honor daughter

  1. Hunza has the highest literacy rate in the region with an ever increasing number of unemployed literate youth. Personally feel that a technical training institute, focusing on the requirement of that region, should actually be of prior importance

  2. the mission of great people is always to alive and serve for others regardless of cast, colour and creed.The said grand building would recall the devotion of Leeza with the region and people of Hunza GB.

  3. God Bless the main donor Mac Arthur & grant peace to her deceased daughter Tschursin. I would recommend Architect Farooq Nurm’d who lives in Vancouver, B.C. to look into construction as he did a wonderful job on Aga Khan University Building in Karachi.He is a wonderful person & very generous at heart.

    Akbarali Nagji, Phoenix, Az. USA.

    1. I don’t think Faruk Noor Mohammed good choice, I saw him in AKDN’s projects, and would be better to engage someone from Pakistan

  4. Congratulations to Diana MacArthur for her boldness of vision, generous commitment, and determined dfffort to make a difference. The school will be both a fitting tribute to Leeza as well as the indomitable spirit of her mother.

  5. it is honestly a miracle for the people of Hunza in general and for the people of Murtazaabad in particular. we pray to all the donors of this project for their good health and prosperity.

  6. I would endorse opinion of H. K Ahmed. I am a native. Hunza is especially the most literate as far as educational attainment is concerned. We have been churning hundreds graduates and postgraduates annually but with no employment opportunities. Establishment of KIU has added to the phenomenon. The GB needs a technical institution to provide skills to educated youth to enable them to get involve in some sort of income generation activity…Building a educational institution today is the first step and it will go a long way in rendering services not only in providing education but creating awareness.

  7. May God rest the soul of Tschursin in the eternal peace. Amen. I hope the establishment of this school would be great contribution enhancing quality education at primary level. Although the existing English medium schools in the Hunza valley opens the windows towards a better curriculum comparing to our national curricula strands, however this school needs to focus an enquiry based science education of international standard equipping the generation to the 21st century challenges & opportunities.

  8. It would be a rare gift for the people of Hunza and suburbs to change future of their generations to compete international standards.

    I appreciate the restless efforts of Mr. Sher Ali (PRO) and the Shool Management Committee and all those individuals who contributed in this process.

    Good Luck

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