How The Birth Of Andrea's Daughter Led To A Lifelong Mission

Andrea Francolini travelled to the northern mountains of Pakistan to photograph polo in 2008, and while doing so, fell in love with the country.

"It was just beyond expectation, so different to what you hear on the news," he told ten daily.

While in the Nagar Valley he visited a local school and was faced with the  harsh realities the students faced, with dilapidated buildings and the lack of resources the teachers had.

"I went to the local bazaar and got notebooks, pens and erasers and gave it to the kids," Francolini said.

"That was it, I never thought of it any more."

Al-Hadi Kids Academy, village of Akber Abad, northern Pakistan, October 2017. Image: Andrea Francolini

But it wasn't until a year later when his daughter was born that Francolini had his "light bulb moment".

"Rather than doing sporadic things while I was travelling, I would rather do something more long lasting," he said.

And in 2011, My First School was born.

Community School, Shitindas, October 2018. Image: Andrea Francolini

The organisation provides resources and furniture to schools, and since 2013 has been specifically helping two schools in the region.

One school had previously used tents as its buildings -- tents that couldn't be used in the winter because of the snow -- and My First School had added three classroom buildings.

Pakistan, 2016. Image: Andrea Francolini

Just days after returning from his annual trip to see his organisation's work, Francolini said the highlight was seeing one of the newly-built classrooms at this school have electricity.

"One of the teachers just took me by the wrist and said 'Sir come look, come look'," he said.

"And then he just flicks on a switch and there's electricity. And that was something they did not have."

Foundation School, Chalt Pain, Gilgit-Baltistan, northern Pakistan, June 2015. Image: Andrea Francolini

The students at schools that still don't have electricity rely on the sun to light up the dark rooms to see their work, but it's not much.

"In the morning the desks are against the window, and then they move the desks across the room as the sunlight moves," said Francolini.

My First School uses local resources and the building is done by those in the villages, who are more than happy to help.

"There was enough money for two classrooms to be built, but when I went back, there were three," he said.

"The builders gave their time for free and with the money they bought more bricks for the extra classroom."

Khriza has been sponsored by My First School since 2013. Photos taken in 2013, 2016 and 2018. Image: Andrea Francolini

Another program the organisation is doing is sending the teachers -- who usually do not have any formal training -- to do one month courses to improve their skills.

"One school wants a teacher to come from a bigger school every two weeks, and we will fund that," Francolini said.

Chat Pain, Chalt, northern Pakistan, October 2017. Image: Andrea Francolini

The organisation relies on donations and the good will of others to continue its work.

Last year, Francolini held a photography exhibition in Geneva with all funds from his collection of photographs from Pakistan going towards My First School.

"One hundred percent of all donations given go to the schools," he said.

There's no end in sight for Francolini and My First School, and his dream is to see one of the students go to university.

"Am I going to stop? No. I want to see one of the kids go to university," he said.

"But then I know I'll want to see another one, and then another one. And then I'll want to see them graduate."