LAHORE: Five-year-olds run naked after a tattered kite as it drifts down to earth. Children slide off a mound of dirt, splashing in the sewer water lapping at the base of their tiny mud hill.
The ‘playground’ – really just an open space between a graveyard and a street crowded with two-marla houses –is the first sight that greeted Munawar Ibrahim and Pasha Shahid when they visited Model Colony two and a half years ago for a charity project.
The residents here are poor, most of them employed as household staff or drivers at luxurious homes in the vast Defence Housing Authority next door. The two women from the Hope Uplift Foundation quickly figured out how they wanted to help them.
“The women here initially asked for money or sewing machines,” says Ibrahim. “But the dismal condition of the children motivated me to persuade my friend’s charity to invest in a school.”
This Hope Uplift School is now full with over 60 students in neat uniforms and bulging school bags. Every day the school turns away parents who want to withdraw their children from the local public school and enrol them in Hope Uplift. Now, the women behind the project are looking at ways to school more and more children.
After their first visit two and a half years ago, Ibrahim and Shahid identified a five-bedroom, two-storey house for the school. The building was refurbished, water coolers installed and the furniture replaced. School fees were set at Rs50 per month, but eventually waived as many parents could not afford even that.
The students, aged four to eight, were bought school bags, stationary, uniforms and textbooks, the same ones used in private schools. “The idea was to give the children an education equivalent to any private school,” Ibrahim said.
Appalled at the sight of children playing in filth and sewage when they first visited, the school decided also to educate parents about hygiene. They were told to bathe their children and trim their nails and hair if they wanted to continue at Hope Uplift.
Now, Ibrahim is making plans to expand the school. “Every day we have to turn parents away as both rooms [of the school] are full,” she says. “Sometimes a few students have to sit outside because of a lack of space.”
The school has three teachers and two sections. Children with some schooling go into the advanced section while those with no prior schooling – the majority are admitted to the beginners section.
Ibrahim points to a space outside the building, where they plan to build another classroom. A carpenter works on furniture in a room on the roof. She strolls into a half-furnished room that will become a nursery, allowing the younger section to be divided into two groups. “Each child will get more attention this way,” she adds. Ibrahim spends most of her time on administrative issues, but hopes to shift focus. “We are looking for a principal so I can focus on arranging funds and shifting to a bigger building,” Ibrahim says.
Funds are never enough. Money is needed to buy the children fruit and snacks every day, to hire teachers, to repair the pathway to the school that is inundated with sewage, and for the new classrooms.
Ibrahim says that the local administration has been of no help. “We asked them to cover the drains that run down each street and to construct a gravel pavement to the school. The Hope Uplift Foundation even offered funds, but the administration sent no labourers, no help,” she says.
But just as over the last two years, the school will continue with help from affluent friends living in DHA, she says.
Lubna Shakoh, head of the Hope Uplift Foundation, says that charity shops and a committee with regular donors have been set up to generate funds for the school.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2010.