School built by deceased American tourist’s mother in Hunza handed over to Aga Khan Foundation


Hunza:  State-of-the-art building of Al-Murtaza Academy was inaugurated in Murtazabad village of Hunza on Sunday.  The school is built with funds provided by American national, Diana MacArthur, in memory of her late daughter, Elizabeth Tschursin.

Ms. Tschursin visited Hunza in 1993 and fell in love with the place and its people. She spent a few months teaching science at an old building of Al-Murtazabad Academy.

Later, Ms. McArthur visited the area to remember the ‘happiest days of her daughter’s life’, and decided to construct a new building for the school, as a parting tribute to the memory Ms. Elizabeth. The $3.5 million project was implemented in collaboration with Al-Murtaza Educational and Social Welfare Organization (AMESWO), a local civil society organization. It will benefit over 400 students, girls and boys, from Early Childhood Development to grade ten.

The school, which covers 2.6 acres, is the first ever seismic-resistant school building in Gilgit-Baltistan with facilities for physically disabled children, having facilities for central heating, insulated walls and windows, and energy-saving light fixtures.

Documents being exchanged between local leader and AKF representative

The school building was handed over to Aga Khan Foundation, Pakistan, “to ensure quality education and sustainability.”  Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan (AKES, P) will run the school as ‘Aga Khan School Murtazabad’, under a gift deed. The gift deed was signed between the president of AMESWO Naem Uddin and Shaukat Khimani, the representative of AKF, during the school’s inaugural event.

Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Minister for Works, Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, was chief guest of the inauguration ceremony of the school.  President Ismaili National Council for Pakistan Hafiz Sher Ali, CEO AKES, P Imtiaz Momin, Director Education AKF Sughra Choudhry Khan, renowned mountaineer Samina Baig, principal donor Diana MacArthur, her son Alexander Tschurisn and niece Liliyan MacArthur, among others, attended the ceremony.

Diana MacArthur thanked all the people and organisations who closely worked with her and played a major role in materializing the project. “Eleven years ago, I had promised AMESWO that I would help the community realize its dreams of a K-12 school for girls and boys”, she said, adding, “We set the standards for performance very high because making something ‘just good enough’ will not change the world.”

“We must prepare our children for the information age”, MacArthur said. Affiliation with the Aga Khan University Examination Board is a great start, she added.

She expressed her hope that AKES, P will ensure the quality education and sustainability of the school operation. “My daughter, the late Elizabeth (Leeza) Tschursin, in whose memory I donated this school, admired the good work of the Aga Khan organizations, so I feel certain that she could not have hoped for a better outcome”, the 85 years old mother said.

Minister for Works Dr. Iqbal

Minister of Works, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal promised to construct a 1.5 km long access road which will connect the school with the Karakorum Highway.

President of AMESWO, Naeem Uddin, thanked the principal donor, Diana MacArthur, and all other donors, philanthropists and community members for their support in completing the project. He also appreciated the role of Ms. MacArthur in water, sanitation and solid waste management projects, in addition to her tireless efforts in the execution of the school project.

Talking about the partnership with AKF, Naeem Said, “We have entrusted AKESP with the future of our youth to educate them according to the highest traditions of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)”.

Elizabeth Tschursin, who was born in 1955, was Ms. MacArthur’s oldest child. She received her doctorate in microbiology from George Washington University in 1993. Tschursin visited Hunza as a tourist in 1994.  She taught science at Al-Murtaza Academy for few months and went back to US due to expiry of visa. She died at the age of 39 before she could return to Hunza to continue teaching.

“She was emotionally delicate, and she eventually fell into a depression in which she could not escape,” MacArthur tol The New Mexican, a daily newspaper published in Santa Fe, the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico.

Her mother, Diana MacArthur, in 2007 visited Hunza and the school where her daughter had spent a memorable time with the students of Al-Murtaza Academy. During her visit she met with the board members of AMESWO who requested her for a new building. The existing building was in poor condition in terms of structure, facilities and most importantly the building was not owned by the organization.

Ms. McArthur shares her views during the inaugural ceremony

Diana MacArthur generously accepted the request and promised to build a state-of-the-art school building.  During the last 10 years, MacArthur traveled to Pakistan 20 times to put all her efforts to ensure quality in the construction.  The construction of the building was started in March of 2013.

Murtazabad is located on the Karakoram Highway, eight kilometers South of Aliabad, the administrative and commercial center of Hunza.  The village has around five hundred households and is famous for fruit production.

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