Complaining, whining, more complaining. And why shouldn’t we? Bad governance, power cuts, rising inflation, deteriorating economy, bomb blasts, target killings…and did we mention the government? Amidst all these life-threatening situations, who has the time, money or energy to think of education, and that too for the underprivileged?

Yet a small but powerful community of philanthropists continues to do its bit amongst all this chaos and anarchy. Whereas it’s pretty clear (and boring) why the complainers amongst us complain and whine it’s really interesting to note what motivates others to dig in their heels and press on.

The field of free, quality education is one area which is growing thanks to the initiative and dedication of a number of committed individuals. Organisations which come under this umbrella range from wide, established, networks like The Citizen Foundation Schools to small home-based ventures.

A senior educational professional now involved in teacher training believes these schools are a beacon of hope, “Government school teachers are apathetic. There is lack of commitment, absenteeism, and not much calibre. Some of the B.Eds and M.Eds we come across do not have even the basic knowledge. Lack of money is the biggest cause of demotivation. In this scenario, these charity set-ups are changing the lives of underprivileged children. One sees a compassion in owners/teachers of these schools that is missing in government schools. Promoting education in these schools actually helps the masses as the elite schools (which charge a bomb) represent only a small margin of the society.”

Seconding this is Dr Soaliha Ahmed, a retired professor from Karachi University. Dr Ahmed takes in 75 children at a time. For her this venture has been a research project which has turned out to be really successful. Her Educational Centre is not a school; rather it provides supplementary education to school-going underprivileged children. In addition to providing coaching she adds on life skills like confidence and assertiveness and the students who really shine get admission in professional colleges.

She has three girls studying in MBA and another four in Bachelor’s, with more ‘good kids’ in the pipeline. She says, “teachers in government schools need incentives. Further, just a change of environment can bring changes — some trees, basic cleanliness, a small library, these things don’t cost much. I have children who walk miles in all kinds of weather to attend their classes here just because I provide a modest yet welcoming environment.”

Another teacher trainer reveals that some of these schools ask teachers to do social work in the evening and guide them on health and hygiene issues. Children absorb this information and are known to refuse to sleep on dirty sheets or ask their mothers to wash their hands before cooking them a chapati. At one school, she was surprised to see a labourer with mud laden clothes come to pick up his daughter (who was wearing a spotlessly clean uniform.)

Another philanthropist, who runs schools in Korangi, provides — in addition to the education — free meals for the children, along with hand sanitisers. The school has 5,000 children. Not wishing to be named, the gentleman is a treat to talk to with his refreshing sense of humour. Working these days on building an infrastructure to carry on his good work, he says “With my age above 60 and as a diabetic patient for over 30 years, I already have the passport and am waiting for the visa”. The schools are funded by his own money. “It’s not a sacrifice; rather, it’s a pleasure. The sense of satisfaction and emotional high is the biggest reward.”

The gratefulness shown by these children is one of the main factors that drives Andrea Khan to volunteer at several welfare schools. Having taught at a prestigious international institution, she says, “I see a fundamental difference. Children from the middle and upper classes tend to have a sense of entitlement, but these underprivileged children are so appreciative of every small kindness, it warms your heart. What’s more, given a chance, these children have intelligence and talent that without an education would never be discovered or developed.”

There are many other examples: the Garage School run by Shabina Mustafa, the Federation of Business & Professional Women’s Quality School in Azam Basti, Sun (The Society for Unwell and Needy) Academy — a UK based charity — and numerous other schools.

So what makes these people do what they do? It’s a sense of responsibility, a straightening of priorities, a simple belief that people should share. “The 2.5 per cent zakat is the minimum mandatory limit. You should give whatever you can,” says one philanthropist.

The attitude with which these people approach their goal is so magnetic that resources — money, good teachers and even the students — just flow towards them. They don’t worry about the rest of the world or complain about others not doing their bit; they focus their energies on whatever bit they can contribute and that makes a world of difference in the lives they touch.

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