Every morning Noor wakes up with nursery rhymes echoing in her ears from a charity school in Johar Town managed by a Non- Government Organization, where she and her two younger brothers study. Noor’s father is a car driver and draws a salary that can barely meet the nutritional requirements of his family. She and her three siblings live in the servant quarters of the family who employs her father, Ramzan. It became possible for Noor to join a school when Ruba Humayun opened up the charity school named, “Door of Awareness” in her neighborhood, where she and several other children like her get free education.
Ms. Humayun is an activist and social worker, who was once distributing food to the poor and needy children in the khachi-abadis (slums) close to Johar Town, when she spotted a desire in their eyes to go to school with pencils, books and bags and get education. Most of the children in such districts do indoor cleaning jobs with their parents in private residences and are not sent to school due to lack of resources. In summers of year 2010, Ms. Humayun went back home after distributing food in this Kachi-abadi of Lahore near Johar Town and discussed with her husband the possibility of teaching children in that community. Today with the help of a dozen volunteers and philanthropists Ms. Humayun runs 11 schools in Lahore. Looking at the huge gap in education opportunities for the poor, Ms. Humayun set up charity schools in courtyards and driveways of residential areas in Lahore to keep the cost of education low for the donors.
Empowering students through education is a major challenge ahead for Pakistan, with a 57% literacy rate and its syllabi divided by virtue of which social strata students belong to. “Students do not have access to a combined education system; there are public schools, private schools and than some charitable NGOs running schools for less privileged in the city. The syllabi followed and taught in these schools is entirely different and determines what kind of employment opportunities exist for all the students” says, Former Finance Minister of Pakistan.
“In Pakistan the challenge of education provision does not end at student enrollment in schools, however, there are issues such as student drop outs, parents mobility and absenteeism of teachers from schools among a few key” says Farooq Khan, an Educationist at Divisional Public School.
“The learning opportunities provided by private schools are restricted to the affluent classes. In order to offer quality education to the masses it requires time, effort and resources. Public schools should be adequately funded in order to attract qualified teachers”, says Rizwana Imtiaz, Senior Teacher at Choueifat.
Ms. Imtiaz’s own driver’s children, Sehr, Ali and Hamza, also go to Door of Awareness’s school in Johar Town. She feels it’s a great opportunity for the parents who cannot afford their children’s education. Upon being asked, if she would like to volunteer working for the same neighborhood charity school, she said, “Teachers working in private schools get seven times the salary they would make in charity schools funded by philanthropists. In public schools also the salaries are much less than those at private schools. If charity schools started paying salaries at par with market, good teachers would be willing to work for them as well”.
The challenges identified by Ms. Humayun in running her NGO, are diverse. Unfortunately, there has been a trust deficit between government and the NGOs. The efforts are made in isolation rather than coordinated and orchestrated endeavors to deal with the menace of illiteracy resulting in low impact.
Ms. Humayun faces several challenges in her quest to provide education in slums of Lahore city, some of these are;
To keep the teaching staff motivated to work at lower salaries and in less than comfortable working environments. The teachers who volunteer to work with NGOS do not come from affluent backgrounds, either.
To struggle with challenging weather conditions, as most Door of Awareness schools are set up in homes and garages, which are not custom-built for schools. In summers, the temperature is around 47degree Celsius and it becomes challenging for both teachers and students to sit and concentrate without proper cooling arrangements, while humidity is also at its peak in July and August. Similar discomfort is felt in December to February as winters are around and sitting outdoors in 5degree Celsius without heating arrangements is extremely uncomfortable.
To get a constant pipeline of funds, as donors are constantly being contacted by several foundations and hospitals to make charitable contributions.
“In private schools, students have access to internet and notebooks for research and learning, while in charity schools they do not even have proper supplies like chairs and tables and its syllabi imparts knowledge, which is limited and does not spur creativity and out of the box thinking. Students in our school can never imagine becoming bigger than a factory worker or mason”, says Ishrat Sharif, Senior Teacher at Door of Awareness.
To keep the students and families committed to sending children to school despite problems at home. Several families are interested in vocational training for their children. They want their sons and daughters to learn skills like plumbing and sewing instead.
Noor’s father Ramzan feels if his daughter completes high school, he will consider it a great accomplishment as even in informal jobs as nursemaids or domestic helpers employers expect workers to be able to read product labels and remember the price of grocery items. Survival is really hard if you are uneducated. But Noor’s family is among a few rare and passionate families who see value in education unlike most low-income families, who view schooling as loss of household income.
Although the task seems difficult there is light at the end of the tunnel as long as there are children passionate to learn. Many children, like Noor, do not mind washing dishes in the evening as long as they are able to go to school in the morning.
To learn more about Door of Awareness or to make charitable contributions to children in slums of Lahore, kindly visit; http://www.doorofawareness.org