ISLAMABAD: The Masihi Foundation School in France Colony is open for all but attended only by Christians. That is because France Colony, so-called because it is located in the area where the French Consulate used to be, is a walled-off parcel of land where some 600 Christians live segregated from the rest of Islamabad.
“People from outside the wall don’t want to come into the colony,” explains Xavier William, the country head for the Masihi Foundation. He compares the wall surrounding France Colony, which has only four entrances, to the Berlin Wall.
Worthy aims, limited access
Over 50 children sit in the classrooms of the school, which opened earlier this year and offers free education to anyone who wishes to enroll up to the primary level. The instruction is in English, making this a rare, English-medium school in a slum area and, as a student there says, they are given books, schoolbags and uniforms for free.
The Masihi Foundation, says William, is combating extremism by “bridging the gaps between communities and strengthening the marginalised communities by providing education, training and skills.”
Interestingly, the Masihi Foundation is also providing legal protection to Aasia Bibi, a Christian languishing in jail on blasphemy charges. In France Colony, these worthy aims are stymied by the fact that only Christians are attending the school.
Ironically, France Colony is a squalid area, despite a majority of its residents working as cleaners for the Capital Development Authority. According to Yaqoob, a resident of the colony, the surrounding wall was built on the orders of influential Muslim residents in the area who didn’t want to have to pass through the area every day.
Each family lives in a tiny room, with as many as eight people packed into the constricted space. Despite living here for decades, residents have not been given ownership rights to the land by the government. There is also no provision for clean water and the sewerage system is overloaded.
Schooling options in France Colony are also severely limited. Nearby schools never give admission to the children from the colony and so they are forced to rely on charities, mostly those run by Christians. Rashida Bibi, a resident of the slum area, says that her daughter attends the Khatoon-e-Fatima School, a Catholic school run by nuns, and gets there courtesy a free bus service provided to France Colony children by NGO FemAid.
Meanwhile, the school set-up by the Masihi Foundation is the only functioning school in the colony. Unlike the other schools opened by the foundation in Quetta, where both Christians and non-Christians are enrolled, the France Colony school seems destined to be limited only to this minority.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2011.